Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Festival of Friends (and Sex)

Smiles and laughter and pleasant times
There's love in the world but it's hard to find
I'm so glad I found you -- I'd just like to extend
An invitation to the festival of friends

--Bruce Cockburn
Festival of Friends
from the album In the Falling Dark

The glue of emergent is relationship, says Tony (p.56). It's not a shared set of doctrine or a community built around membership. Emergent is a festival of friends. The conversations that are the stuff of emergent take place within what Tony calls an envelope of friendship.

Emergent types seem pretty self-conscious of living in a world in which they are both at home and not at home. They are not at home in the sense that they feel the world pressing in on them and inviting them to find themselves in its story of consumption, greed, fear, exclusion and self-reliance. They are at home in the world in the sense that they feel made for this time, this place, this earthly realm.

In a world characterized by consumption, greed, fear, exclusion, self-reliance and easy-to-prepare, prepackaged answers to life's difficult questions, emergents are finding each other, they're investing in each other, and they are orienting their lives
around each other--from where they live and work to how they get there and whether or not they take the big promotion and move away. And if emergents don't feel wholly at home in the world, they don't feel anymore at home in traditional evangelical churches, and for some of the very same reasons they don't feel at home in the world. So, says Tony, emergents are "largely people who feel great disappointment with modern American Christianity" (p.70).

Where earlier generations of Christian dreamers dropped-out of society and dropped-in to communes, emergents are a new generation of dreamers, but they're not dropping out of society, they're staying put, gathering together in urban and suburban locales, in virtual digs like blogs, myspaces, facebooks, etc. and, as I've so often heard it said, they're doing life together. What are they doing together? They're thinking, dreaming, questioning, longing, worshipping, and seeking to be agents of reconciliation and God's shalom at this particular time in history and in the particular places and spaces they live, work and play.

Emergents have also abandoned a one-dimensional view of human beings they believe the Enlightenment bequeathed them, a view which sees us as primarily cognitive, rational, computing-machines, and they're embracing instead a more holistic view of human beings, a view which validates "emotions, experience, relationships, creativity, nature and the many other aspects of being human" (p.79). And all of this in a thick soup of friendship.

My friend Dan Brennan has a blog dedicated entirely to friendship. Like a lot of emergents, he's an adventurer and one of the frontiers he explores on his blog would scandalize garden variety evangelicals, i.e., cross-gender friendships --
friendships between men and women who are not married to each other, but may (or may not) be married to someone else. These are deep, emotional, affectionate and intimate bonds, too; but they are bonds that don't have genital union as their natural end. You'll notice by the way that I didn't say sexual union. That's because the sort of intimacy Dan thinks can and should exist between cross-gender friends is sexual. How can it not be when the friends are themselves sexual beings?

And this leads to another feature of emergents, what Tony refers to as "a
hope-filled orientation" (p.72). Emergents live eschatologically, i.e., in light of God's future, a glorious future that has come and is coming still. They're convinced that Jesus came with good news and that God has a program of all-inclusive love, wholeness and restoration for the world and they're eager to get on board with God's agenda. Their view of heaven, therefore, like my own, is not that of a disembodied place in the great by-and-by, but an embodied future where things--earthly things like relationships, drinking water, economic systems, eco-systems, all things--are the way God ultimately intends them to be. That future, they believe, is something to get excited about and to start actively anticipating.

Did you notice that when I ended the brief paragraph on friendship and sex I began the very next paragraph with
[A]nd this leads to another feature of emergents, and then I went on to talk about eschatology? If so you may have wondered what those two things have to do with each other, sexuality and eschatology. Permit me to stray from Tony's book for just a minute in order to say, very briefly, how I see the two being connected.

The English word
sex comes from the Latin secare which literally means to cut-off or to sever. To be "sexed" is, in a very meaningful sense, to be cut-off, disconnected from a whole or severed from it. And that, I think, is part of the human condition, to find yourself self-aware, aware of a kind of loneliness, incompleteness or un-wholeness. Sexuality is nothing more and nothing less than that drive or energy in all of us for communion, relationship, connection, affection and wholeness. "It is not good for man to be alone." That is sexuality. And what is the eschaton if not community, connection and wholeness? Communion with God and each other. If sexuality is the question, the eschaton is its answer. So, sexuality and eschatology are actually deeply connected. In fact the one (sexuality) is aimed at the other (the eschaton).

G
enitality, by the way, or "sexual intercourse", is but one aspect of this larger phenomenon of sexuality. It's a really important aspect, but it oughtn't to be confused (the way it so often is) with the larger creational reality (i.e., sexuality) of which it is but a part.

Anyway, back to Tony's book. Is emergent perfect? Does it always live up to its own ideals? I think what Fredericka Mathewews-Green says about culture applies to emergent itself, it's a
"fleeting human creation, a spontaneous uncontrolled collaboration, and we shouldn't expect it ever to be perfect or even to be very good" (p.74). Like a flash-mob that converges for a brief time and then disperses, emergent is a sort of spontaneous uncontrolled collaboration of Christian dreamers. They're converging in real and virtual spaces and doing some wild and crazy things. Who knows how long the collaborative experiment will last. But when its time is up and the crowd disperses, you can bet its DNA will be passed on and turn up in some future gene pools. Right now, though, it's here.


40 comments:

Kevin Corcoran said...

Sorry folks, something weird was going on w/fonts, so I had to take down the old post (with Jennifer's comment) and iron out those pesky font wrinkles. So this post is a wrinkle-free version of the old.

So, here's Jennifer's comment:

Kevin,

Thank you so much for this post.I think you are right on.

I have been reading another blog today on the (endless) conversaiton regarding women in ministry - and my thoughts keep going back to the fact that when men and women cant even be friends in the church (I dont mean that they are friendly to each other, but are true friends) the whole conversation about sexuality, power, leadership, etc can just feel impossible.

Thanks for bringing great thinking to such an important topic.

***************
Thanks, Jennifer. Relationships, as you know, are complicated and messy. But they are very rewarding. I also wonder how much is generational. I could be wrong, but I get the sense that my students have less difficulty w/CSFs than the generations before them. A key, I think, is first separating out sexuality and genitality (is that even a word?). That's just a start, though. Because it seems like the more emotionally connected and intimate CG-friends become the more physically connected one or both of them may want to become. And then the distinction between sexuality and genitality, though still valid and genuine, may become more difficult (though certainly not impossible) to sustain in practice, either for one or both of them.

Thoughts?

Maria said...

Kevin,
I like the way you connect sexuality and eschatology... it reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a young pastor friend. He was bemoaning that there would be "no sex" in heaven (Jesus says no marriage, but anyway...). I had this sense that I couldn't quite articulate at the time that we wouldn't need sex or marriage in heaven because there would be true intimacy with all kinds of people -- the answer to that longing for connection and communion. I've never quite been able to explain that intuition, but you've given me some fodder to think about it.

Jennifer said...

Kevin,

I think you might be right about it being a generational thing, in part. But, I am also aware that younger adults are increasingly unmarried, and not seriously daing - so friendship seems more possible. But, my suspicion is that even younger people who are open to crossgender friends when they are not dating/married, might be more closed to it once they are attached. If 2 unattached people are friends, it's just doesnt seem to be a dangerous thing - if it turns to romantic love, it's not a problem (unless it only turns for one). If its a married person and a single person, and it turns to romance, you've got a big problem. And, riskiest of all, if you've got 2 married people, and it turns to romance, you've got a huge problem. My guess is that 2 single crossgender friends would have the easiest time being accepted by society...and 2 friends who are both married, but not to each other, would have the hardest.

Of course, on the other hand, some people might be deeply suspicious of a single person wanting to be friends with a married person of the opposite sex.

The "audience challenge" is huge. And even when we want to say it doenst matter what other people say, I think it can have an impact on the relationship.

And I think you are right about the conneciton between intimacy and physical touch being tricky. I have heard of friend paris who have a no-touch rule and avoid the problem all together. But, I dont think that solution would work for most people (I know it wouldnt work for me). I wish I had some easy answer for how to walk through that - I only know that it has to be comfortable for everyone involved (both friends, the spouses, etc) and that patience, trust and grace is required when you're not getting the level of physical touch you wish you were.

Dan Brennan said...

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for the plug, bro. It's good to distinguish genital sexuality from social sexuality (Marva Dawn's terms).

Jack said...

I am not sure that I agree with the distinction between genital and social sexuality. Or maybe I just dont understand it.

What do you call friendships between the same gender? Is there sexual tension in that case? I think men and women can be friends. But I think that any sexuality between them is just that, whether it is acted upon or not.

Jennifer said...

Jack,

I think there is sexual energy between any two people who interact. But, dont hear that sexual = erotic (I'm using erotic in the common sense, even though I think there is deeper meaning to erotic that isnt usually acknowledged in general conversation). When I relate to a woman friend, the energy between us is determined, in part, by the expereince of two people of the same gender being together. We share the experience of having a sexuality that has been shaped in a similar way (by biology and/or by culture). And there is an energy to that kind of shared experience. Many women can relax into that, and be comfortable in their own skin, in their own gendered presence. Its a certain type of sexual energy, but it has nothing to do with wanting to engage erotically with the other person. I think its about the women being who they are as sexual selves - meaning, they can talk about body issues, sex, admit desire fulfilled and unfulfilled, or even that they're just grumpy because of their period.

Jennifer said...

Jack,

And, I should add...I think a friendship between a man and a woman can acknowledge the sexual energy that is there, without the drive to turn it into an erotic thing.

Jack said...

Jennifer said: "And, I should add...I think a friendship between a man and a woman can acknowledge the sexual energy that is there, without the drive to turn it into an erotic thing."

I will admit that is true. But what is that sexual energy exactly? Is it lust? Is it something short of lust? I think it is a continuum, with one end being erotic, and the other end being a mild attraction. But somewhere along the line it becomes lustful, and if it is not in a committed relationship it is sinful, whether or not it is acted upon or not, at least according to Christ.

I am not saying that men and women can't be friends, I just think that the sexual part is likely to do more harm than good. Otherwise, cross gender friendships would be of more value than same gender friendships and I dont think that is the case.

Jennifer said...

Jack,

I really am right there with you - lust does not have a place in friendship.

Do you think its possible for cross-gender friends to love each other deeply without it ever turning to lust? Or is it always a slippery slope for you? It seems to me that love, real love, drives out lust.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Good questions/discussion. A couple of quick thoughts (which I began hours ago b/w classes).

Jack: the distinction between sexuality and genital intimacy seems pretty straightforward to me. The first is just the natural, creational, impulse, energy, craving--whatever you want to call it--that each of us has for emotional connection, intimacy or communion with an other. Genital intimacy is a consummation of that energy in the most pscyo-physical way humanly possible before the cosmic consummation of all things when Christ returns. (Something like that.)

I'm just thinking out loud here: maybe we should think of sexuality in this sense as a scale or continuum. All friendships--same sex or not--fall somewhere on the continuum of intimacy/connection. In each, there will be more or less emotional connection, more or less physical connection and intimacy, more or less physical affection, etc. At one far end of the continuum is genital intimacy.

About sexual tension. I don't know what to say here. Can't there be cgfs in which there is no sexual (i.e., erotic) tension (i.e., no urge for genital intimacy)? There could obviously be cgfs where there is. I'm going to go out on a limb here and venture to say that these latter would seem to be more difficult to negotiate.

One thing I would want to avoid is the myth that obviously if one of the friends is found to be attractive by the other (or each finds the other physically attractive), then one will (by necessity) want to have intercourse with them. That seems false to me and supported by anecdotal evidence.

Jennifer:

Suppose you've got two friends, each of whom is married to someone else (and let's throw in, for good measure, that they're marriages are happy and healthy). And let's suppose that not only is the energy there, but there is the drive in one, the other or both, for genital intimacy. THEN how ought they to proceed? This where things seem to me to get complicated. It's when there is desire for genital intimacy on the part of one, the other or both, as a consummation of the other sorts of intimacy they share, that things could get mighty messy.

And doesn't it seem like the erotic desire behaves both like a rheostat and like a thermostat? I mean, you either desire the other in an erotic way or you don't, but once the desire is turn on (so to speak) won't it come in degrees, sometimes high and other times low?

A couple more thoughts to stir the pot. First, I would think that even in the happiest, healthiest marriages where all of one's sexual needs--genital and otherwise--are being met to some degree, still we will forge other connections with other people, male and female. And this suggests to me (if it's true) that our hearts deepest longings for connection cannot be met by human others alone. (The desire isn't wholly met in our spouse, and it's not wholly met by our spouse AND these others.) It suggests to me that, as Augustine said so long ago, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God (and that in the consummated kingdom).

Finally, lust. What is it? Is it unbridled sexual desire? Is it merely erotic desire or intense erotic desire for someone who's not your spouse? Here's the thing. Jennifer, you say "real love casts out lust." But would you say real love casts out erotic desire? For all those who are married, I hope not!!! But should it cast erotic desire in those in cgfs for whom there is no possibility of legitimately satisfying that desire? Just curious.

Man, this is messy stuff! My head's spinning!!!!

Dan Brennan said...

Hi Kevin,

Great post and good conversation. I think the younger generation are more open to it, because of many cross-gender relationships they have observed in family, work, and community in ways that the older generation didn't observe when they were growing up.

I like the contiuum with "mild" attraction at one end and genital intimacy at the other end.

I believe there are Christians who see "mild attraction" as lust. I believe also there are men (let's stay with men) who can spiral into a passionate lust with a sudden urge for genital intimacy in -60 miles an hour something like what happened with David apparently when he saw Bathsheeba. Unfortunately in some circles, lust or the genital urge is portrayed exactly like that-across the board in all men--like it is an unseen, or irresistible trap door lurking right behind the "attraction" element.

I think that the contiuum represents a vast array of possibilities for CSF's that exist
today.

No question that all CSF's are "sexual" and in those relationships "attraction" can develop. The 64,000 question is how to virtuously live an intimate relationship where attraction is present. There is the possibility of attraction imaginatively nurtured into genital lust or possession. Sexual "sparks" do not necessarily have to turn into a "drive" for genital intimacy.

Contra, popular opinion, I don't think all sexual "stirrings" or desire for another are "lust." Our sexual differences are profoundly good. All sexual desire, (I'm with the Stanley Grenz on this) is not a passionate longing to get it on. Sexual desire and desire for sex, as he pointed out are two different realities.

I suggest (I'm not the only to suggest this)along these lines I don't think genital "sparks" are lust. It's how we participate in our inner and outer world and relationship for me that determines if that becomes lust. I believe that's part of the reality of sexual interconnection with the other gender that is reflective of our male and female oneness (sexual desire) versus desire for sex. I think lust comes into a selfish, impulsive, passionate longing to genital intimacy( here, even a married person could be guilty of treating their spouse as objects of lust).

I think it is CSF's are hard to navigate once the desire for sex is powerfully present. Not impossible, but hard.

My two cents. I know others differ.

Jennifer said...

Ohhh, so much to respond to :-)

Kevin : Can't there be cgfs in which there is no sexual (i.e., erotic) tension (i.e., no urge for genital intimacy)?

Jennifer : None? I don’t know. Probably. But, its hard to imagine none. For me, as long as it is on a low level, and one that does not drive you to lust, it’s not a big deal. I would also say that lust is great in marriage :-) but when its outside of marriage, its using someone for your own enjoyment, but in a way that they do not belong to you. I don’t think occasional sexual tension necessarily equals lust. Its just part of life.

Kevin : Suppose you've got two friends, each of whom is married to someone else (and let's throw in, for good measure, that they're marriages are happy and healthy). And let's suppose that not only is the energy there, but there is the drive in one, the other or both, for genital intimacy. THEN how ought they to proceed?

Jennifer : I kind of hate to give my opinion here, because this is not a situation I have ever been in, and it would be incredibly difficult to walk through. In an ideal world, I think it is possible that the friend who wants to move toward genital intimacy could confess it to their spouse, and their friend (and their friend’s spouse indirectly or directly) and that the small community could care for each other in a way that keeps everyone safe, keeps everyone attached (though there might have to be some kinds of separation for the short term), and that minimizes shame and distrust. I don’t necessarily think that just because one friend feels a strong drive toward sex that the friendship has to automatically end forever. BUT, my word, that would be hard to walk through, and it would require a lot of maturity, honesty, and hard work from everyone involved. One of my professors, who is also a therapist, says that the hottest thing in the whole world is secret attraction. He encourages clients who become attracted to him to talk about it, and to bring it into the open, so it can be dealt with. So, I tend to think that openness is a good path. But, in reality, it might be too much for the friend (who is not pursuing sexual union) to deal with – and it might be too much for their spouse. So, perhaps, they are not always brought into the loop, but somehow, that person who wants sexual union needs some kind of openness and community on the issue so that they are not left alone in the shame of it.

Kevin : I mean, you either desire the other in an erotic way or you don't, but once the desire is turn on (so to speak) won't it come in degrees, sometimes high and other times low?

Jennifer : yeah, I think this even happens between spouses – sometimes, desire is just not there (even if it would be ideal that it were), and sometimes it is (even if its terrible timing).

Kevin : Jennifer, you say "real love casts out lust." But would you say real love casts out erotic desire? For all those who are married, I hope not!!! But should it cast erotic desire in those in cgfs for whom there is no possibility of legitimately satisfying that desire? Just curious.

Jennifer : I would not say that real love casts out all erotic desire. Not in marriage, and not in friendship either. I should have said “real love casts lust out of where it does not belong” Lust has a place in marriage, but it is not a loving thing to practice in friendship. Erotic desire seems different than lust to me. Erotic desire, or sexual tension, or whatever you want to call it just seems like the normal awareness that comes up from time to time that besides all the other ways a friend is attractive, their sexuality is attractive too. But, when it comes to friends, love asks you to not turn that tension into a lust that uses the other person in a way that they are not yours to use. Dan said, “Sexual "sparks" do not necessarily have to turn into a "drive" for genital intimacy.” And I think that’s a good way to say it.

Now, having said all that, I think there are people who can not keep an occasional mild tension from turning into a strong desire for sexual union. And cg friendship would be tough in that case. So, its not for everyone. But, then again, if every little spark needs to turn to sexual union for a person, I don’t know how they walk down the street or go to work or church.

It’s a complicated thing (obvious statement of the day!). I actually think most people would be a bit offended if they thought their friend NEVER felt any sexual tension. That stuff doesn’t have to be expressed verbally, and it would be odd for it to be a big focus in friendship (you’d be torturing yourself) but I don’t think its that hard to get a sense of when a person is enjoying you. I think that unless one of the friends is gay, attraction is going to happen from time to time, and it does not have to be a big deal – AND, IF it is a big deal, there might be the possibility of walking through it with the friendship intact (though I’ve not been in that situation, and the only situation I know of that was even close was VERY difficult for the people involved).

Dan Brennan said...

On second thought Kevin, I wonder if "contiuum" serves is well for the "end"...the escahtological end is not genital intimacy--per your post and my own reflections. On second thought, I take back the idea that contiuum is a good way to talk about these things if it ends in genital intimacy. I had a momentary lapse! That's precisely one of our problems!! We think that genital intimacy (as good and as vaild as it is) is the end of the "full" embodied communion between male and female. Christian eschatology appears to say that embodied communion with the other gender and our longing for the other is greater than, it transcends genital intimacy.

Jennifer said...

Dan,

I am glad you cleared that up. I was kind of puzzled over the continuum if sexual union is on one side.

Now, if you wanted to make a continuum from very mild attraction, to an attraction that is so intense it’s hard to manage, but does not result in sexual union, that might be more interesting, but I still don’t know, even that is not all that helpful. Part of me really wants to say that attraction just is what it is, and it comes when it comes. And there is just no formula for it. You never really get to put yourself on a continuum and feel 100% certain that is where you’re going to remain forever. I think part of the thing about attraction can be that it is a surprise. I think if someone wants to place themselves 100% on the lowest level possible, they might be the one who is most susceptible when they do feel a spike of interest because the surprise will be the greatest for them. Which is why I feel suspicious when people say that they have absolutely no awareness of attraction to their cgf at all. I think they are in for more of a struggle than the person who puts themselves in a different place. And, the opposite is true, I mean, we know from romantic relationships that the super-intense time of attraction does not last forever. I think, in theory, that a person who was really tormented by attraction, could someday be a person who didn’t feel it that much.

Sometimes, with the men I know (including my husband) the moments when I feel a spike of sexual interest are totally unexpected moments – not the obvious moments of having something really sweet said to me, or physical affection – but the quirky moments when something in the person’s heart shines through without them even knowing it. And, I know that culture says men are visually driven and a good visual experience equals sexual attraction. And, from what I can tell, that is true, but it’s not the whole story…my thinking is that for men it’s about more than body parts, even though a big part of culture tells us otherwise. It would never work to say : men shouldn’t have female friends who meet X standard of beauty, or that women shouldn’t have male friends who do X kind of things.

Kevin Corcoran said...

A quick response for now. You misunderstood me. Here's what I said:

Genital intimacy is a consummation of that energy in the most pscyo-physical way humanly possible before the cosmic consummation of all things when Christ returns.

What I meant to suggest here is that after the consummation of all things with the return of Christ, gentital intercourse, "the most psycho-physical way humanly possible before the New Jerusalem" to realize the intimacy we've been created for, will be surpassed by some other form of intimacy, i.e.,the ultimate intimacy toward which the sexual (and genital) strains.

Then again, if we're essentially embodied beings, maybe there will continue to be sexual intercourse in the NJ (even if there will be no giving and taking in marriage). Maybe it will be transformed and glorified in some way, just like everything else. Who knows! In any case, the main point is that I meant for the continuum to apply to life in the present order.

More later....

Jennifer said...

Kevin,

Do you remember the christian singer Rich Mullins? I remember being at one of his concerts where he said esentially the same thing. The concert was at a church, and I assume the audience was mostly pretty conservative Christians - and honestly, I have never seen a whole room of people collectively get so uptight all at once. When he said something like, just because there isnt marriage in Heaven does not necessarily mean there isnt sex" I think the silent gasp of the audience sucked all the available air out of the room. I had no idea if he was right or not, but I remember being very amused that it made people so nervous. :-) :-) But, I'm kind of a trouble-maker like that :-) Sounds like you might be too :-)

Kevin Corcoran said...

Jennifer:

First, I've heard of Rich Mullins, but I'M not familiar with any of his music. (Not my style.) But, hey, good for him for suggesting what doesn't strike me as obviously false or implausible.

But, back to the continuum. What I meant to suggest with the rheostat/thermostat example is what you're saying, i.e., although attraction is either on or off, once it's on it's not static; it waxes and wanes as you suggest. Also, what I meant to suggest too was that there can be attraction in that you find someone physically attractive but, simultaneously, you have no desire for intercourse with them. Either that's true or I've been self-deceived. (Which, given the human heart, is an all too common reality.)

But, maybe a line can be drawn this way. Physical attraction and even a drive for genital intimacy is not in itself bad (hardly seems so since they're part of creation), but if that drive is nursed and fed and massaged in one's imagination such that it becomes overwhelming for someone, that's a sure sign things are going to go south, and quick.

And three cheers for suggesting that the myth that men are visually stimulated by the visual though true is not the whole truth. Even for men (and I am one) it's more than that. A lot more.

Jennifer said...

Kevin : there can be attraction in that you find someone physically attractive but, simultaneously, you have no desire for intercourse with them. Either that's true or I've been self-deceived. (Which, given the human heart, is an all too common reality.)


Jennifer : Yes, I would agree. I think men probably hear that line more. As a woman, I get told the other side... I've lost track of the number of times I've heard something like, "your emotional connection is going to lead to intercourse, even if physical attraction is low." And I dont think that's true either. Of course, I think people assume that men have attraction to physical stuff, and women dont. It goes along with the same idea that men like sex for the physical release, and women like it for the emotional release. And that short-changes both genders.

Jack said...

Jennifer said: "In an ideal world, I think it is possible that the friend who wants to move toward genital intimacy could confess it to their spouse, and their friend (and their friend’s spouse indirectly or directly) and that the small community could care for each other in a way that keeps everyone safe, keeps everyone attached (though there might have to be some kinds of separation for the short term), and that minimizes shame and distrust"

In the real world, that sounds to me like a very bad idea. Openness in this situation is not at all like the situation with a therapist, when the relationship and the attraction of a patient for the therapist is part of the therapy (transference and counter trasference.)

Dan Brennan said...

Hey Kevin,

Enjoying the conversation. I am open to the possibility that there could be "glorified" sex in heaven but not marriage. It's at least conceivable.

In my current understanding, the Trinity--not a dyad--but the presence of Three in the eternal community suggests something different.

It also seems to me that the shocking "antifamily" or "antimarriage" Jesus sayings accompanied with the affirmation of the new humanity including singles--which conservatives believe Jesus himself was on this earth--suggests an embodied, spiritual communion--fully human, and fully "sexual" without the intercourse.

I think part of the future of New Jerusalem is experienced in the present partially in the new age.

It's certainly an interesting question about sex in heaven. But I do think that in the New Jerusalem we will experience the relational and communal depth of men and women.

Jennifer said...

Hi Jack,

You may be right. I think a lot of it depends on how it's handeled, what the trust has been like with the spouses, etc etc. But, even if the friend, and their spouse, were not told, I do think it is possible to work through that level of attraction without having to walk away from the friendship. I think there are some friendships which could hold that level of disruption without it turning to sexual union or blowing the friendship up.

Dan Brennan said...

Hi Jack,

I appreciate your concern about the openness in the "real world." I know this sounds dangerous but
in a context of a personal community (trusted inner circle of friends) this is already happening in the real world with good fruit.

I suggest this is one of fruitful and constructive ways of moving forward in understanding our eschatological sexual selves.

Beth said...

Hi Kevin…

Been lurking around awhile and thought I’d finally comment.

This is a subject that is personally important to me and vital for the church. I really appreciate your definition of sexuality which should help take out so much of the mystery and the fear of the S-word. Also, your connecting sexuality and eschaton is dead on. Not much to add to the great comments except some personal experience.

About attraction…
As has been noted by other comments, the distinction between sexuality and genitality (great word!) is crucial. This is the point with which should bring us greater freedom.

As a single woman, if I buy into the conservative stance on relationships, I am screwed. There is little male-female intimacy available for me outside of marriage. This cannot be God’s heart. I have come to believe that the genders can dance (thanks Dan) together in a beautiful and fulfilling way that adds to our lives and displays the fullest image of God on this earth. But it takes work, it takes courage, and it takes space. There has to be some space to walk this uncharted territory; to experiment, to fail, to repent, to forgive etc.

Like Jennifer, I know for a fact that you can be attracted (dare I say Sexually?) to someone without wanting to have sex. Just enjoying the presence of the other brings a level of fulfillment that is fabulous. But sometimes love brings a certain amount of affection that can be confusing, and affection wants to express itself physically. This isn’t the time to run!! Instead, this is a time to pull out all the tools we’ve been given to walk uprightly. First and foremost, we walk in the Spirit, praying for our relationship and asking God how we are to love the other. Sometimes we exercise discipline; taking thoughts captive etc. For me, genital sexual expression outside of marriage is not an option. Period. Because it is not an option, I know I can’t nurture fantasy. But as God’s people, empowered by his Spirit, we have a good shot at getting it right if we are willing to work at it. The male/female connection is too important part to our story; of showing God’s image fully on the earth to give way to fear.

About the generations…
Intuitively I want to think it is generational. But I have to say I was shocked to hear the responses when I recently asked a group of young college students their thoughts on the subject. During a Psych of Gender class, I took the opportunity to ask my discussion group if men and women can be friends. They unanimously responded with a resounding NO! The list of objections from this sampling of non-Christian young people read like the responses of a group of middle aged evangelical; too hard, too dangerous, too complicated, someone always wants sex. Wholly unscientific…but interesting.

About openness…
Like Dan, I have seen this work in the real world. The leader of the healing ministries at our church openly talks about how she and her husband have walked through a rough situation where she was dangerously attracted to another man. Their openness was refreshing and freeing for many who think they are the only ones to experience these feelings. It demystifies the situation and shows others that you just deal with it; with repentance, forgiveness, prayer, discipline, and love. When people committed to a personal path of transformation in a community that values wholeness and authenticity, this stuff can be talked about.

Great discussion!

Dan Brennan said...
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Dan Brennan said...

Hey Beth,

Your comment highlights the complexity of this issue. In evangelical Christianity, singles are not expected to have "two-in-one" communion with the other gender. That's because we have come to define "two-in-one" female and male relationships *solely* as "one flesh" i.e. physical intercourse. I suggest the Christian story supports marriage, but also supports communion (read the scriptural language of koinonia) that is rich and deep and "oneness."

Yes, having experienced sexual attraction with another woman friend while also knowing I was not going to act on that attraction, nor was I going to "allow" it to turn into lust (hey guys, lust is an act of the will) it is possible to have intimate CSF without objectifying the woman, or undermining the marriage. In much popular evangelical "wisdom" there are only two alternatives to sexual attraction: run, (i.e. Joseph) or
"cave in" like David did Bathsheba.
In a positive way, attraction does draw us out of ourselves in a good way. Some evangelicals fear that.

I totally agree with your comment on the generational observation--without backing off from what I said earlier. I too, have heard the same kind of resistance. It's always interesting to see what kind of reaction I get from a younger generation.

Rachel said...

Great post! This cleared a heck of a lot up for me with in terms of what the emergent church is. And your connection between sexuality and eschatology was brilliant! I wish I had grown up with such a holistic and communal view of sexuality. I'm looking forward to more of your thoughts on the subject, especially as a singleton who sometimes feels misplaced in a made-for-couples society.

Jennifer said...
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Jennifer said...

Dan,

Your comment reminded me of the odd way in which the Jospeh passage gets used in certain Christian circles. We dont even know for sure that Joseph was attracted to her - we're never told that he is, but the logic seems to be that all men are attracted to any woman who is making herself available. I'm not guy :-), so I cant say for sure, but that doenst seem to be true in reality. It seems like there are women who make themselves available - and some men are attracted to them, and some men are not.

We are told in the text only that Joseph is attractive physically, not that is he attracted to this woman. And yet, it is always applied as a text that says Joseph ran away from temptation. Just from a hermeneutics standpoint, isnt that a stretch? It seems to me that the story is not about Joseph overcoming temptation, but its just another of the series of stories in Joseph's life where people used their power over him in a bad way - and yet, he contiued to trust the Lord. I thnk that's a much more powerful story than a moral tale about the need to flee temptation.


I think there are plenty of other places in scripture you can to see the need to flee temptation - I'm just not sure Joseph is best applied that way, even though people do it all the time.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Jennifer:

Nice point about possible uses and misuses of the biblical text re Joseph.

Dan:

This is a question for you or anyone else who may know something about lust (I mean who may know something about how lust has been understood in Christian theology).

You suggest that lust is under our voluntary control. Erotic attraction, I should think is not under our voluntary control. Is lust, then, the massaging, nursing and willful fanning of that erotic attraction in one's inner thought life?

Here's another question, you say you experienced sexual (and I take you to have meant erotic) attraction for a woman friend while also knowing that you were not going to act on that attraction. I'm just curious as to what not acting on that attraction might mean. I assume it meant at least that you weren't going to have intercourse w/this person, but did it also mean that you wouldn't show physical affection for her? I mean, while there's a difference b/w physical affection and erotic arousal, I would think the line b/w the two would be, um, dizzyingly blurry at best if you are erotically attracted to the person.

I think this is the sort of thing that Jack's worried about. Sure there's a difference b/w erotic attraction and (say) physical affection. At least in the philosopher's or theologian's armchair there is. But in the real world aren't those lines terribly messy and so dangerous as hell to fool around with?

Jennifer said...

Hi Kevin,

I'll jump in there...

I think that any physical contact - regardless if attraction is present at the moment or not - has to be done with an awareness of the immediate community. That is, friends dont touch in ways that they would not do in front of their spouse, or the other person's spouse - no matter how attracted they are. That does not mean that all physical touch has to happen in the actual physical presence of a spouse, but that in everyone's mind, they are part of the conversation and community. I think you're treading on dangerous ground when you go a direction that you have to shield from the spouses.

Jennifer said...

Kevin,

I should add...and what is done in the presence of a spouse (the actual presence, or just the awarenss of presence) can be very rich, and it can be sweet and tender and meaningful. I hesitate to even say "you can hug, you can kiss cheeks, etc" because that is going to vary so much from "community" (you, your friend, whatever spouses/romantic interests)

Kevin Corcoran said...

Jennifer:

That sounds to me eminently reasonable. But then whatever affection exists b/w cgfs is not physical affection. Is that right? And this regardless of whether or not there is sexual/erotic attraction. Am I getting your right?

Jennifer said...

Kevin,

I think you are asking : If a cgf is aware, in the present moment, of sexual attraction, what are the physical boundaries?

If that's the question (and I could be getting that wrong), I would say that is a time to be careful. Its NOT a time to pull away from the relationship, or even from all physical touch, or to be afraid, but it is a time to be aware of what is happening. And, in a sense, you are still asking the same question : what touch would happen if the spouse/spouses were right here, AND they were aware of the attraction. I think there has to be a way to honor the spouses AND not run away from the friend in fear. Can touch still happen in those moments? Sure. But, at a certain point, you are going to make things worse for yourself, and its going to be harder to mentaly hold the relationship as part of a community in your mind.

The difficult part about discussing this is that I think we all know there are levels of attraction. You can be sexually attracted to someone, but not going out of your mind crazy about it. I think if you are in that place, you have a lot more freedom. If you are consumed by your attraction for them (even if its not lust), there is a sense in which physical touch might be scaled back for a while so things can be more comfortable. As in all things, self knowledge, honesty, and patience are crucial here.

Jennifer said...

Or...lol....maybe you're asking, in a more general way : is physical affection okay in any cgf, even if they only deal with a low level of attraction? To that I would say, Yes. As long as its done as part of that particular community - and that can vary from community to community.

Jennifer said...

I'm just full of comments this morning :-)

I should say - in my experience of cgf (my own, my spouses, watching others), I personally think the best place to be is just a natural relaxed place where there is freedom of physical touch without much though. It's just part of the relationship and no one is thinking : should I touch right now, or right here. It's just an easy part of being together. If you have the expereince of lots of second-guessing, it might be something to pay attention to and wonder what that is about.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Jennifer,

My last comment/question was (of course) directed at the comment you made BEFORE your addendum. (We must have been composing at the same time.)

Based on the comment I was responding to, it was becoming clearer to me where the boundaries were. With your addenda, I'm starting to drift back to the murkiness. But I'll need to think about it more.

It's a beautiful day in GR and I'm having friends over to grill...so out of touch for a bit.

Keep it up!!!

Jennifer said...

Kevin,

LOL...I love it when people say, "you were so clear, until you kept talking" :-) :-)

I think you sense the murkiness from me because I think the subject is murky. I think physical affection is very good, but it has to be done in the particular community, and there is just no way I could say what that exactly means. It's just hard to say that a hug of X number of min is okay...or, a kiss on the forehead is okay, and a kiss on the cheek isn't. There are SOME clear boundaries (I dont think anyone would say that make-out kissing is okay), but there are many boundaries that have to be worked out within the community where everyone (both friend and whatever spouses/romantic partners are involved) get a voice and presence in what happens.I dont think this has to be a big deal, it can happen very naturally over time.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Wow, what a week. I think that's the most sex I've ever had in a single week! Was it as good for all of you as it was for me? (-: Seriously, this has been a fun and very interesting discussion. So thanks to all of you for participating.

Looking ahead, in the coming days I'll post a short piece on Emergent vs. emergent and then, soon after that, another on Tony's The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier.

In the mean time, feel free to keep this discussion going.

Dan Brennan said...

Kevin,

I think erotic attraction is not the same thing as lust. Some people do, I don't. EA can be shaped and disciplined so that it doesn't have to turn into lust.

I don't intend for EA to be this craving that is hungry for physical foreplay. If we are struggling with lust, then, touch may be off-limits. But there is an wonder and a call of attraction in life that doesn't compel you to become absorbed in it--and yet you still enter into an attraction to it.

I also think EA does have a social construct to it with an individualized take. Therefore, what may drive some into a frenzied lust, i.e. some kind of physical touch--may not be so erotically charged for others.
This is where we need personal and communal living wisdom not
rigidity or fear.

In my experience, lust is fed by fantasizing or imagining, etc. feeding the desire for sexual union or possession.

I maintain EA is sensual and relational delight that is distinguished from lust. As a norm, many evangelicals have only one answer to EA: distance. I think it helps to see that lust and EA are two different realities.

Beauty--as David Bentley Hart puts it--tends to cross boundaries but keeps a distance. That's I somewhat see EA working out in relational practice.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

I know this is an older topic, but I just wanted to share a few thoughts. First, I am SO GLAD to see many like-minded people! Cross-gender friendships is a topic that I have been thinking about and wrestling with for a while-- and for a while I was wondering if I was really the only one who felt the way I did. There are many things that confirm my thinking and others that challenge me (both in more "conservative" and "liberal" ways). So thank you!

"I should say - in my experience of cgf (my own, my spouses, watching others), I personally think the best place to be is just a natural relaxed place where there is freedom of physical touch without much though. It's just part of the relationship and no one is thinking : should I touch right now, or right here. It's just an easy part of being together. If you have the expereince of lots of second-guessing, it might be something to pay attention to and wonder what that is about."

I have to put my agreement 100% behind this comment! As one who tends to over-analyize my life, I've fallen into the trap of thinking "is this okay?" "would this be awkward or send the wrong message?" anytime I'm with a close friend. And this, counter-productivly, only increases the potential for taking things the wrong way. But when I just let myself go and enjoy being around a good friend, these same problems really stop being big issues and both parties are much more comfortable and natural.

"Sometimes, with the men I know (including my husband) the moments when I feel a spike of sexual interest are totally unexpected moments – not the obvious moments of having something really sweet said to me, or physical affection – but the quirky moments when something in the person’s heart shines through without them even knowing it."

So, you just took the words out of my mouth! Just the other day a good friend and I were dancing-- very crazy and weird dancing. Basically, the most "un-sexy" thing you could possibly imagine, yet for a moment I suddenly felt "in love" with this guy. Which sucks because there are many reasons we could never be together, despite both being single. BUT, the point is from there I've come to realize that simply because I took that moment and translated it as "love = dating/marriage/sex" does not mean that it has to be that way. Rather, it was just a moment where I realized that this was a guy I loved to be around and who is making my life a more fun adventure. And yes, I would LOVE to eventually marry a guy who does the same... but not every guy who does that needs to be the guy I marry, either. I hope this is making sense outside my own head! haha

Again, I am glad to have found this and was given an opportunity to throw my own thoughts out here-- despite the potential incoherence!