Right now I’m blogging about Dan Brennans book ‘sacred unions, sacred passions‘, subtitled ‘engaging the mystery of friendship between men and women’. I’ve started this series with a musical prelude, but I had already introduced the subject in another post earlier this week.
so now it’s time to start talking about Dans book itself. And what I like a lot about it, is his thoroughly investigation of the subject.You get a lot of background information, history, bible verses, and quotes (somtimes it’s almost academically) of which you wished you’d know it before.
In the beginning of the book he identifies some of the underlying assumptions in how Western society (and thus, in modified form, Christian subcultures too) view sexuality, relationship and marriage. And the sad thing is that we most of the time don’t seem to be able to see through them… One thing Dan identifies as the foundation of a lot of our thinking is what he calls ‘the myth of romantic idealism’, which we all will recognise if I give you 2 quotes that were used in the book:
Our culture generally elevates the romantic experience of falling in love above religious commitment, teaching us that this emotional experience is both beyond our control and beyond all reproach! Idealizing romantic passion as the unique, one-and-only, exclusive form of love between a man and woman has created a pervasive romantic myth in our contemporary world when it comes to male-female paired relationships. (Laura Smit)
Romantic relationships are celebrated as an ideal woman-man relationship in our society. The myths of our culture secure a special status for romantic heterosexual relationships since these myths idealize romantic love and promote the notion that the emotional well-being of men and women is dependent upon their involvement in a ‘successful’ romantic relationship! (Kathy Werking)
So romantic love is seen as the most important and deepest form of love, and ones life will never be complete without it. A lot of movies and books and songs do have that idea as the basis of the underlying worldbview.
The sad thing is that ‘conservative’ christianity has absorbed a lot of this idea, and combined it with the biblical of “one flesh” (an expression used for both marriage and sexual union from genesis, which is referenced to in the new testament by both Paul and Jesus himself) to create something unrealistic. The “one flesh” relationship is supposed to satisfy all our deepest yearnings for oneness, sexuality and deep friendship. So every male-female interaction is viewed in this light:
The Christianized version of the romantic myth exaggerates, idealizes, and isolates the path of dating or courtship to marriage as the only prize in paired male-female relationships under the justification of “one flesh!’ Embodied knowledge, relational depth, emotional closeness, physical tenderness, sensual warmth and play, vulnerability, trust, fidelity, commitment, union, spontaneity, understanding, giving the utmost— these dynamic nongenital relational qualities are romanticized and sexualized under the evangelical rhetoric of one flesh. Some Christians who see these dynamics in male-female pairs presume this “couple” must be on the path toward romantic and genital intimacy.
Which is asking way too much of romantic relationships and marriage. Surely in this sexually broken world it is important that we point to marriage as a place of love, passion and sexual fidelity (also with our lives!), but that does not mean that all other ‘unions’ in our life are just peripheral…: To use Dans words:
Here, classical Christianity calls us out to something much more than the ‘much more” embedded in romantic idealism. God, who is love, calls us all—singles, husbands, wives, widows, widowers, divorced— into a spirituality of love and friendship in marriage, beyond marriage, and outside of marriage. While God honors and blesses the marriage bed, God does not confine delight, goodness, passion, attraction, beauty, sensuality, spontaneity, or creativity to the boundaries of married love. Jesus himself embodied these realities as a single man. The spirituality of love and friendship in classical Christianity does not give us a stark contrast between great mystery of marital love and uninspiring platonic friendship outside of marriage. Both in the Bible and in tradition, the spirituality of friendship is presented as hungering for the good, the beautiful, and the true.
The whole romantic myth is not something we should swallow as truth as Christians. We follow a single man as Savior, and most of our new testament was written by another single man. How could we ever believe that ‘being in love’ and having a romantic relationship is the highest good to pursue without which we’ll never be complete? This is very denigrating to singles, and to all non-romantic relationships too. While friendship and brotherly love have been honored throughout a lot of church history (and in lots of other cultures) we seem to not value it very much in our society. Only the expression ‘just’ friends tells us enough, as if a friendship in itself is not enough to be meaningful…
So the first thing from the book that I think everybody should think about is this romantic myth. It doesn’t matter if it’s the christian or the non-christian form, we shouldn’t fall for it!