Category Archives: christian life

Women need respect, men need love (3) Men need love, and not just sex…


This is the third part in my ‘Women need respect, men need love’ series (part 2 here), where I try to look at the male side of the whole ‘women need love, men need respect’ mess, which will alo be the longest of the three. (After all, the only perspective I can write from is from that of a straight married man.) And I must say that I’m appalled by how men are described in this kind of discourse, as if we are oversexed animals driven only by a few primitive needs, with no selfcontrol and not really a need for love even.See also for example my post On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism? from 5 years ago already. Porn and a certain kind of sexist fundamentalism are creepily close actually, and the same dehumanising ideology under porn and hook-up ideology is also present in this kind of funamentalism. The only main difference I can make out is that one side gives in to the animalistic sexuality they see as default, while the other more or less tries to tame it in marriages. But apart from that they’re rather the same, n

From the first paragraph of the ‘love and respect’ book, underlining done by sheila Gregoire

matter how much pretence of being ‘biblical’.

It would be an understatement I felt quite insulted as a man and as a Christian when I read Sheila Gregoires overview of the ‘love and respect’ view of what men want sexually and how they should be ‘respected’  I still feel the same way every time I reread it. Let’s add a shortened version here to refresh:

She honors her husband’s authority in the marriage, allowing him to make the decisions. She does not speak up when she disagrees with him, even if he is being selfish and seriously burdening her.(…)This is true even in cases where he is a workaholic; drinking too much; or having an affair. (…) No matter what, in all of these cases, she regularly gives him sexual release, without any regard for her own feelings, understanding that this is a need that he has, and that he cannot show her love without it. (source)

There’s a lot of toxic things in here, but at this moment there ‘s 3 very dangerous things jumping out for me:(1) erasing communication in a relationship will never do any good, and can only make it worse for both partners (2) the idea that a man feels respected when he’s tread as a despotic narcissist is just beyond alien to me. How you can have an intimate relationship without communication?
But the ultimate creepiness, and the ultimate degradation of the male side in the equation is like I already said (3); the idea that mere ‘sex as release’ is the driving need for men.

And then to say that those views are based on a verse from Paul that says that men need to love their wives as themselves is too much cognitive dissonance for me to handle. Note that Paul uses the verse to correct an asymmetry in gender patterns in his world, not at all to express pop-psychological needs, let alone express an absolute need for men and a desire for women that’s less important as the ‘love and respect’ doctrine seems to teach. I would assume it would be the other way around anyway: Love your wife as yourself is the most important command here, and there’s no way explaining it away if you really strive to be ‘biblical’. But alas; I have given up believing that US fundamentalists care one inch about being biblical though, so I’m not surprised anymore by this butchering of scripture, although it saddens me a lot to see how this kind of thinking can vaccinate couples against deep intimacy. Which is a very hideous thing!

Yes, no one can deny that in a way men need respect (as all people do), but I’ve already there is no actual respect in being treated as an entitled narcissist. Gender is irrelevant even, all people need basic respect, and all relationships need mutuality in that, especially if we’re speaking about an intimate relationship. Let’s also remark again that there is absolutely no respect in  not being communicated to.

Now let’s take this overview of what the ‘love and respect’ doctrine teaches about men and their ‘need for sex’:

Men need physical release. They experience this as respect. If you don’t give it to them, they will be tempted to have affairs or to ogle other women.
Sheila Gregoire summarising ‘love and respect’

This kind of thinking might come from a man who wants to excuse his own weaknesses, but still is extremely denigrating and dehumanising to men. Why does the worst misandry always come from men who claim to defend their own gender? Yes, men desire sexual release among other things, but we are humans, not animal slaves to our bodies, and we certainly will survive without ‘getting release’. Men can and should have selfcontrol. That’s what the bible tells us too. That’s what I was told as a teenager as one of the reasons why having no premarital sex is a good idea: it’s a training in selfcontrol, and even within marriage there will be times that there is no sex. And a man is able to survive that, and love his wife. And still have other forms of intimacy with her.

It’s also nonsense to say that mere ‘physical release’ is the reason of most affairs. Most men are looking for something that’s missing in their relationship. Often even love and being understood and stuff like that.

The ‘men just need sex’ trope, combined with the myth of the absence of male selfcontrol is not just insulting, but it’s also very destructive for men as well as for their relationships when they start to believe that crap, making them aim for much less than they could and should be. Which isn’t only bad for them, but also for their lovers to, who deserve much better.

But we probably shouldn’t be surprised that some people think this way: it’s the underpinnings of the modern Western porn industry, basic individualistic consumerism, and our human psychology often works with self-fulfilling prophecies: strong beliefs of not being able to do something will very often manifest themselves and be affirmed. It’s bad enough that certain corners of the non-Christian world sell us this nonsense to get people hooked in their web of consumerist screwed-upness, but I expect more from Christians than a complete disbelief in male selfcontrol, and a higher view of what men expect from sex and relationships too.

Both men and women deserve better.

But yes, the male body desires sexual release. (Just as women have a sex drive too by the way) And yet that doesn’t mean that every sexual release as such will actually satisfy or fulfil us in any way. Or that a man always needs to get everything a body asks for. We’re not simple bodily animals. My body also wants sleep at moments that I can’t get it, and more food than is good for me. Not listening to your bodies needs is what makes us human. And just treating sex as mere release is just masturbation, and adding a human partner will not make much difference for that in a way. Except that we use another human being, that we are commanded to love as ourselves according to the bible verse behind the ‘love and respect’ logic to get that physical release.

It makes me feel sad and lonely that this is what people think of sex, even within marriage.  Or of sex at all. If that would be all there was to it I would choose a life of celibacy, and pray to God to make me asexual. Or become one of those people who think sex is indeed by definition dirty, and always a sin and a weakness.

I’d even say that the mere idea that anyone would feel respected by getting sex-as-mere-release from a partner that doesn’t even want it without any actual emotional connection is beyond creepy. It’s a recipe for marital rape even, which I suppose to be punishable by law in any civilised modern country. Any man who’s content with that has no clue what intimacy is.

If that is really what a Christian book about marriage teaches, something is beyond wrong, antichrist even.

But it’s also no wonder that a man who has such a low view of sex, which is affirmed by his experience, might have no qualms with exchanging the source of the ‘relief’ with another one, be it porn, or maybe an affair in which more than this approach to sex is explored or the humanity that the marriage is vaccinated to by this destructive doctrine is sought back.

Because yes, as is very evident, men still need love. We’re as human as women and children are, and don’t differ much from them. Only the worst psychopath who tragically doesn’t have all of his humanity together might not. And while our body might desire sexual release, that is only a small part of the story, and probably one of our desires that is easiest put aside, or transformed into something else.

As Shane Claiborne says:

If we are able to have a healthier understanding of sexuality and to celebrate singleness as well as marriage and family, then we can transcend some of this. One of my mentors is a celibate monk, and he says we can live without sex but we can’t live without love. And there are a lot of people who have a lot of sex and never experience love, and people who never have sex [but] have deep experiences of intimacy and love. (the irresistible revolution)

Everybody needs love.
It’s much more basic than needing sex. And more destructive if we don’t get it.

The big problem is this whole ‘all we need is sex’ stuff. It can never satisfy. It empties sex of meaning and make sex itself more unsatisfying, which is quite ironic when you have put all your hope for fulfilment in sex.

You won’t get any fulfilment, but you will be told that’s all there is.

And this mess is supposed to be male chauvinism… It’s a good recipe for men making themselves worse than they could be, more sinful, and having terrible loveless sex-lives.

If that isn’t beyond sad?

what do you think?

peace

Bram

Women need respect, men need love (2): Women need respect!


From the first paragraph of the ‘love and respect’ book, underlining done by sheila Gregoire

In part 1 of this series I reacted against the slogan ‘women need love, men need respect’ that seems a US import slogan linked to bad marriage advice that is rather pervasive in certain evangelical circles, with some pop-psychological weirdness attached to it.

I am well aware that it should be more than obvious that all people, of all genders need both love and respect, in and out of marriage relationships. There should be no question about that. And actually, all that I’m saying here should just be common sense. I’m rather shocked that it isn’t for some people. But as my title indicates,  I strongly feel that it might good to emphasise, in our time and culture, that women really need respect and men really need love too.

I’ve already touched upon in my last post that the original version of the saying has been abused and made into an ideology that has been destructive for vulnerable marriages. The series on Sheila Gregoires blog from last week had some very extreme examples of that. (Watch out, disturbing stories there)
Yes, it’s true that normal people with healthy relationship skills and enough love and respect probably would just take a message of ‘don’t be selfish’ from the book, as Sheila already said in her post, but there’s still a poison in the book, and it seems also in similar ‘Christian marriage books’ that focus on the supposed needs of the man which are much more important that those of the wife. Not everybody gets bitten when they meet an European adder, and because a healthy person usually won’t die when bitten, that we need to encourage all people to go play with adders, is it?

I50861956_342361363022927_3993856368762159104_nt’s quite clear if you actually read the verse that the whole theory is built on that ‘psychological needs’ are not what Paul had in mind in Ephesians 5:33, and none of the abuse that the book brought haver happened if men would actually love their wife as they love themselves, as that verse also very clearly says. Which is a clear command, and not a hint about pop-psychological needs.

The poison is very clear if we follow Sheilas series (1 2 3 4), and damaging for both sexes: the advice of unconditional respect for the man can lead to bad relationships and ruined marriages.
Which by the way means that on the other side of each of these stories the teaching has turned a man into someone who isn’t even able to be in a healthy relationship, and -very ironically since we’re speaking about supposedly Christian teaching here-, a bigger sinner than he should and could have been, led astray from Christlikeness and turned into the likeness and image of a toxic ‘manliness’ that is in certain aspects the opposite of how Christ wants us to grow. Entitled narcissism is a good way to create hell here on Earth, both for yourself and the people closest to you. But we will not focus on the the male side here, which will be for a next post.

So let’s go back to the title: Women need respect!

Yes, I know: It’s very weird and discouraging that such a thing even needs to be said. Someone once said that feminism is the radical idea that women are human, and the sad thing is that we still need to hear that in Western society of the 21st century sometimes. Porn culture and male-dominated sexism are still pervasive in our world, turning the sexes against each other. And this often means that even the basic respect of treating the other like a person is lacking.
As a Christian we should never join this toxic tendency, for it is pure antichrist toxicity. Jesus Himself treated everyone as a person, and showed a lot of respect for all kinds of people who were often not treated as a full person in his own culture and society. Sadly this indeed included women too in his world, as it sometimes does today. But he didn’t bother with those societal patterns at all and broke all of the rules whenever they were in conflict with ‘love your neighbour’.

Think for example of the Samaritan woman in John 4, with whom a lot of barriers existed: Men didn’t talk to women, Jews didn’t talk to Samaritans, and so on. Jesus doesn’t bother at all with these things. Neither did he bother with those petty restrictions he when Mary of Bethany breaks all societal patterns  in which only men could listen to a rabbi. Or when they bring the woman caught in adultery before him.
Jesus certainly didn’t find the idea that ‘women are human’ a radical idea, even though some of the people around him might have been shocked by his inclusion of women as much as with his inclusion of both the oppressed and outcasts like the Samaritans and chronically ill, as well as the oppressors -who also were outcasts- in the form of the Roman soldiers. But his friendships with women were very remarkable for his time and culture, especially the gospel of Luke was quite scandalous in that regard!

All of this is basic biblical knowledge. If we are to call ourselves Christians this means that any societal rule that prevents us from respecting others made in the Divine Image should be dismissed. I don’t even need to refer to my own adherence to Christianity though, since this is a very basic form of humanism that should be common sense to all of us moderns, even though it still might be revolutionary for some if I look around. The sad truth is still  that in a lot of circumstances a lot of women (among other humans) do not get the basic respect they deserve as human beings even. This always is an injustice that should be countered!

Every human being, including every woman, needs to be seen as a fellow Image of God. None of them (regardless even of how they present themselves to us, not even a sexy model in an ad) should ever be treated as a mere sex object that is enjoyed and preyed on as such in porn culture, and seen as an evil temptation to be avoided in certain religious circles. Certainly both are two versions of the same evil, and and as I said before in other posts: one of the best remedies is simply friendship. Personally I have no idea how a marriage or sexual relationship in general would even be possible without friendship at all. But friendship should be our basic impulse towards every person of the other sex that we meet. If we would do that the respect I’m speaking of here would always be present!

And so it still needs to be said: Women need respect!

So how much more important is this in a monogamous partnership that is supposed to be based on love as our Western marriages are? It’s rather obvious that i f we don’t give someone the basic respect as a person that ‘love’ won’t even be an option, let alone loving someone as yourself as Paul says in the verse that the ‘love and respect’ stuff is based on.

If you can’t treat someone as a person you have no business being with them. You will only hurt them, and  respect is something that is very easily naturally reciprocated in a healthy relationship but also often dies when it isn’t… I keep on saying things that should be entirely obvious,  but any relationship needs respect from two sides, otherwise it can and should not go very deep. And a relationship that goes so deep as a marriage does cannot survive in a meaningful without mutual respect, and love is impossible without it.

It doesn’t matter what the gender of a person is, we all need to be treated as a person especially by our life partner.  And the opposite of respect is one of the most destructive things in a relationship. Contempt is one of the most dangerous things that can be added to a relationship, and one of the most sure ways to kill either the love or the whole marriage.

And while I’m writing all of this I still have a nagging voice that says. ‘this is just too obvious to write down’. But when I read stuff like what I’ve read last week on Shelia Gregoire’s blog, or discussions in certain Facebook groups, or thinkabout certain relationships I’ve seen go to ruin in my live I fear that I’m naive.

It needs to be said again and again.
It needs to be shown to the world.
It needs to be shown to the church too I’m afraid!
It needs to be live out and be a light.
We need to be a friend who shows respect!
We need to crush all forms of dehumanisation!
Women need respect!
All people do!

So what do you think?

peace

Bram

Image

On the Problem of Orcs


Orcs are popular characters in a certain kind of fantasy story, and more recently also in the kind of games based on it. While I certainly love the works of J.R.R.Tolkien, the father of modern fantasy and the guy who coined the term ‘orc’, there is something dark to the idea too with a lot of potential for evil abuse,which is the ‘problem of the orcs’ that I will try to explore in this essay.

Let’s start first with the beginning, and with the definition of our main term. Tolkiens orcs are humanoids, a kind of goblin. Most notably orcs are dangerous and ugly and live underground, use violence freely, usually don’t like sunlight, and even eat the meat of humans when they can. But the most characteristic thing about orcs in the middle-Earth universe is that they are pure evil. Not just a bit, but completely. Orcs are pure monsters that are thoroughly bad, so much that there is no chance at all of one of them ever being good.

Their evilness has something to do with their role and origin. They are used by the dark lord Sauron, created by the powers of evil, and might even be dependent upon him. So them being instruments of evil, the only thing anyone on the good side can do with them is destroy them. Unlike humans and most fantasy humanoids no matter how evil in Tolkiens books, there is no chance for redemption or reform for the orc. We can see the difference very clearly in the LOTR books. When the battle of helms deep is over, the surviving humans from the enemy, originally recruited by the fallen wizard Saruman get mercy. They are humans. Same with other beings including the repulsive and quite evil creature Gollum -technically more or less a mutated hobbit deformed by evil-, who does get the benefit of the doubt from Gandalf.

But no such thing ever happens for orcs.

Orcs are in a way flat characters. They are an archetype for something like the executive forces of evil. A personification of the forces of destruction, hate and decay in the form of a more or less humanoid sentient being which is a slave of the dark lord. And in a story of fight between good and evil there is only one thing that can be done with them: they need to be destroyed! All of them! Without mercy!

A good orc is a dead orc!

Now I do like Tolkien and his books. And I understand his use of beings that are pure evil as instruments of the evil dark lord. Such things might indeed exist in fictional worlds (or even our world!) They can also have a lot of symbolical meanings: the evils we have to fight in either our society or our own lives (what some Muslims call the greater Jihad) or even literal demons if you believe in those.

But still there is a big problem with the idea of the orc, although not in the idea itself but more in the possible abuse of the idea. The orc trope of a humanoid being that is purely evil and utterly beyond redemption, and ultimately just destined for destruction when good conquers evil is can easily go wrong.

This is probably one of the reasons Tolkien didn’t like his LOTR trilogy to be seen as allegorical and a symbolic retelling of WWI by the way. Even with all the forces of evil in the background all Germans are still humans, and not orcs and I am quite sure that Tolkien as a Catholic would never equate humans with orcs, even though they’re on the other side of a war.

The picture of an orc is powerful in propaganda techniques, and very dangerous. From the moment we turn any human being into an orc, we cross the line of dehumanisation. It’s a technique that is as old as human wars probably. And it’s wrong and evil, at least as dark as the heart of the worst orc of Mordor! But it often works. Humans like to think in ‘us and them’ dichotomies, and sometimes the ‘them’ side is seen as so ‘other’ and so dangerous that they evil and beyond redemption, and killing them is the only option. The enemy gets reduced to a kind of orcs.

Certainly this is an irrational impulse, and from any rational Christian or humanist POV this purely is an abomination. Every human being is made in Gods image, and no human is beyond redemption. But strangely enough Christians sometimes use similar techniques, especially when influenced by certain endtimes-stories. Johan Klein Haneveld in a recent essay about Christian fantasy and endtimes-stories (in Dutch, sorry) notes how in the ‘Left behind’ series the non-believers are reduced to something that in the terminology of this post can be seen as an equivalent as an orc. In fact the whole dispensationalist endtimes scenario in which the unbelievers are part of the ‘forces of evil’ makes it hard for certain Christians to see the other as human.

Talking about a friend who believed in an update of the dispensational endtimes story which saw a union of Muslim countries as the final oppressors (instead of the EU or UN in earlier versions) of the endtimes, Johan remarks:

If you portray people as an enemy, you’ll treat them likewise. My friend admitted that it was hard for him to love Muslims, since he believed in this view of the future. He needed to do his best to see them as individuals, and not take them responsible for the tribulation that would follow in the endtimes.
Likewise the ‘Left Behind’  series didn’t help Christians to love their enemies. (…) No, instead they stimulated ‘us-them’ thinking and aroused a fear for the evil outer world, in which everyone could turn out to be an evil oppressor of Christians. (…)
And the reader of the books was taught to see democrats, liberals and dissenters as one-dimensional characters that deserved to go to hell.

These “one-dimensional characters that deserve to go to hell” are certainly very close to orcs I would say. They are not loved, they are not mourned, and God will destroy them anyway so who bothers, good riddance! (And in this most of the words of Christ are swept under the mat, along with the most radical parts of the bible) And the potential for abuse of this discourse goes far beyond this kind of ‘Christianity’.  Later in the essay Johan quotes from a New York Times article about Racist Science Fiction in the US.

‘Ward Kendall’s 2001 “Hold Back This Day,” imagines a future in which the evil all-powerful “World Gov” has forcibly united the population of Earth under one religion and, by way of enforced race-mixing, one uniformly brown-skinned population. Jeff Huxton … slowly learns to cherish his white skin and joins a terrorist group called “Nayra” (“Aryan” spelled backwards!). They hijack a spaceship and travel to Avalon, a secret all-white colony on Mars, which has been transformed into a paradisiacal homeland.’

Johan then adds that “he has seen that plot before, and well in ‘Left behind'”. Here we see all ‘non-white’ people reduced to some kind of orcs. Something that has happened before in real life by the way, and is certainly quite evil. How those people can claim a ‘Christian’ identity is beyond me. (Jesus wasn’t even ‘white’, whatever that word even means, and he came for people of all kinds.)

Let’s not forget that all humans are of our species, and made in Gods image.

Seeing the other as an orc of any is always a dangerous lie. All lives matter! (Even non-human lives do have their importance too evidently. But that would be another post.) This is also true even if they’re on the other side of a war or conflict. Even if they’re very different. Human lives are important!

In the end the actual enemy is not the human being on the other side in the other trench who is feeling the same fear as us and wants to stay alive like us, but the forces that make us enemies. Lies, systems, powers, whatever…
No human is ever beyond a chance of redemption (even though the evil they commit remains very real) I believe that as a Christian. Even the most evil person has a capacity of repentance! The question of evil humans is an interesting one though. Maybe there indeed is a point of no return after which a certain human being is completely evil. But who are we to judge that even with the worst criminal? Half of the new testament was written by a man who tried to erase Christianity with violence before his conversion, and approved of killing Christians! Maybe there are points that for the protection of the innocent a human has to be killed in defence. That’s all possible.

But no human is an orc.

Even worse is using a form of ‘identity politics’ in which certain groups of people (the enemy, other races, one of the sexes, people of a certain persuasion or religion, the oppressed or the oppressors, fans of nickleback, whatever…) are orcs beyond redemption. This is a very grave form of dehumanisation that will make us less human, and closer to being an orc ourselves… A human is always more than a member of a certain identity group.

And so for a Christian there is no fellow human that we should see as beyond redemption. No enemy that can be turned into an orc that should be slain without mercy.

We’re all human!

what do you think?

peace

Bram

The friendship is the benefits (on Christian egalitarianism and cross-gender friendships)


I haven’t been blogging much lately apart from last weekend, but I seem to be full of thoughts that need out, and I’m trying to rely less on Facebook than I used to do -battling an addiction and winning?-, so I might return to blogging here more.

I’ll start with saying that I’m not following everything that’s going on in the US or in US Christianity, but I’ve been following a bit of the situation with the megachurch of Willow Creek from here. and the possible sexual misconduct of Bill Hybels -a man who always seemed rather respectable to me by the way- .  I am by no way qualified to say something about that situation, but the legendary blogger Andrew Jones has a good overview here with some important questions at the Tall Skinny Kiwi blog. (glad to see him blogging again by the way!)

One of the links that Andrew has collected in his post is a very interesting analysis of Dan Brennan here. Dan is one of the biggest experts in this age on Christianity and cross-gender friendships in the world as far as I know, at least in the English-speaking world. (See all my posts about his book ‘sacred unions, sacred passions’ here) HE has some interesting observations about a certain kind of ‘anxious’ egalitarianism that he sees as quite pervasive in certain American circles:

I was in for a big surprise when I started to go public about my friendships with women a little over ten years ago. I thought evangelical egalitarians would enthusiastically see all the benefits of intentional spiritual friendships out in the open. It was quite a jolt to me when I began to run into skeptical egalitarians.

To say I encountered spiritual anxiety among these unconvinced Christians would be an understatement. It was not that they were opposed to cross-sex friendships. They had plenty of opposite-sex friends.

What, then, were they anxious about? It soon became clear to me: my intention to practice dyadic opposite-sex friendships before a watching world. They were highly anxious in men and women sharing authentic power and risk in one-on-one relationships with no one else around. Friendship was not foundational to any Willow Creek model. It was not even up there on the high priority list.

Again, note here I can’t comment on whether this is actually true for certain circles, and my goal here is not to point my finger to certain groups that are on another continent from me, but to find out what the most Christlike way of living and interacting is, and which examples should be emulated and which examples are lacking. And what we can learn from that, either by seeing what we should do, or what we shouldn’t do.

Let’s first say that I certainly am an egalitarian and strongly believe that cross-gender friendships are a healthy thing, for several reasons. When it comes to the reasons that some Christians want to hear first, the ones derived from the bible and the Christian tradition, both more or less have the same foundation:  Jesus who broke all rules of gender segregation that his culture had is an important one to start with. Think of the Samaritan woman at the well, the story of Mary & Martha, and as I pointed out in my last post Mary Magdalene in the garden-. Paul speaking of ‘no male and female in Christ’ is another one. And just the idea of calling each other brother and sister is also a quite powerful -that’s not just a metaphor, people-. Every person is our brother and sister, and needs to be treated as such, with the same love and respect we would treat an actual sibling. (Yes, looking at our sisters as sex objects would be creepy and evil if looked at it that way.)

I also am naturally inclined by my personality type to friend women as easily as men, and any person who will tell me than male-female friendships are impossible is more or less doing something like telling Mr. beaver of Narnia that animals cannot talk.

I’d also say people who are unable to have equal cross-sex friendships are missing something in their humanity, and that New Testament Christianity quite easily leads to the conclusion that all people of all genders should be treated as friends. And that looking at people as sexual objects, either as a prey in our fantasy or as a temptation that we should get away from at all costs is, is a serious disregard of the humanity of our sister.

(Note that I’m speaking as a straight male here but that you can fill in whatever gender  or sex you are that fits for yourself and whom you’re attracted to. It’s applicable to all genders and sexual orientations)

I’m not the only one who has picked up on Dan’s important observations. The internetmonk blog also extensively quotes his blogpost in a post called “Friends without benefits“. Chaplain Mike ends his post with the following points:

In our sexualized society, it is easy to understand why some people might want to erect strong, rule-based boundaries about cross-sex relationships. I have news for you. Those boundaries haven’t stopped or even slowed down immoral behavior, and if I read Paul correctly, trying to control sin by implementing law only exacerbates the problem (Romans 7).

I believe God calls us to maturity and wisdom in all of our relationships. I have long been “egalitarian” in my theological position (I’d rather say I believe in full partnership and mutuality between men and women). But this article has caused me to question a huge blindspot in egalitarian teaching and practice. We have not truly learned to welcome each other, live with each other, and serve one another as true brothers and sisters until we can learn to be friends. Without benefits.

Very important points again, although I have some quibbles with his title. I’d say that the friendship itself is enough of a benefit, not? I already don’t like the expression of just friendship’. There is something very wrong if there’s an actual friendship going on and you call it being ‘just’ friends, a if being friends is not something worth celebrating in this superficial lonely culture… So as my own title here says, I’d say that ‘the friendship is the benefits’!

In a world where people of the other sex (or any sex you find attractive) are so often reduced to a commodity to satisfy your lustful thoughts actually seeing people as humans like us made in Gods image, and treating them as friends, and sisters and brothers of equal value as we have ourselves might be a revolutionary way of living. But in the end it’s just a very logical application of ‘love your neighbour’.

Not dehumanising people into sex objects -to abuse or run away from as a temptation- and just being friends with them are two extremely basic ways of loving your fellow human I would say… And that’s the core of the question. When we grow on our spiritual Path with Christ -who friended all kinds of women including prostitutes, which were never referred to as sex objects of either category by Him, but as fellow human beings in need of love- we should  be able to go much deeper than that. Just being brothers and sisters is the beginning, like learning the ABC when there are whole libraries to read, and all of us will add our own book to them.

peace

Bram

See also on this blog:
Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, and the Risen Jesus
Jesus against the sexism of his time: Martha and Mary
10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…
Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’
On nudity in game of thrones, and some American bloke again…(the ‘bloke’ being John Piper)
On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism?
‘Male christianity’ vs Mother Teresa
A Christian reaction to porn that doesn’t dehumanise the objectified further?
sexual dominoes vs the fruits of the Spirit
on sexy porn models and human dignity
Meditating on sexy models

Holy Saturday meditation 2018: the harrowing of hell


A few years ago I had a habit of posting meditations here for the darkest day of the Christian liturgical year,  which holy Saturday certainly is, and today I will continue that tradition, but with a completely different twist.

On Holy Saturday, in between the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday and the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, we remember Christ being in the grave. This was the darkest day of all. For the disciples this appeared to be the end. Their rabbi and alleged Messiah was dead, and a dead Messiah is a false one…

All hope seemed gone, and as far as I can make out no-one had ever understood Jesus’ own predictions about coming back after three days enough to have hope in anything like the stuff that we know would happen. For us it’s easy, we’ve heard the story countless times… The disciples didn’t have that privilege.

I’ve always done my Holy Saturday meditations from this human point of view:
Peter Rollins and his parable of Lucifer in heaven
Friedrich Nietzsche and the parable of the madman
the psalters’ song ‘momamic’

But there is another way of looking at it. A more realistic way even, if you are able to switch your frame of reference. And while the human viewpoint is not unimportant, there are other viewpoints that should not be ignored.
In the older church there was another focus for this day in between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. It is the day when Christ was in the realm of the death, rescuing the imprisoned souls. Classical Christianity called this ‘the harrowing of hell’ and it was quite an important doctrine in ancient Christianity that even got a mention in the apostles’ creed.

And as you see some really weird artworks were made when people tried to depict it. The one on top of my post for example is credited ‘Psalter, Oxford ca. 1220 (BL, Arundel 157, fol. 110r)’, and was going round on facebook today thanks to the fine people of discarding images. This means it’s from the late medieval times, well after the first church but still a while before the reformation.
The interesting thing with art on this ‘harrowing of hell’ how hell/Hades is sometimes actually pictured as the mouth of a very hungry monster. A monster that lost the fight though…

So what is the moral of my post here? That there are different layers of reality, and we don’t always see what’s going on in other layers. while the disciples were having their darkest hour and had lost all hope, Christ was at work beyond what anyone here could see, freeing souls from hell…

We don’t always see what’s happening, but we do have the promise that the Good, the True and the Beautiful will win in the end, and that the hungry jaws of hell will not have the last word! The deeper magic from before creation will win in the end, and the Light will destroy the shadows of night, and we will see the morning.

The Light will win

peace

Bram

Sell everything you have, and give it to the poor!


As most people would have noticed already, recently I’ve been finishing an older collection of songs with titles like ‘sell everything you have and give it to the poor’. (downloadlink to Safe Happy Christian Music for the Conservative Middleclass )
People have asked me before why I wrote the song, and what I think about the bible verses that it’s based on, so maybe it’s a good idea to clarify a bit with some bible study about Christ and money, or riches in general.

Let’s start with the song, which can be listened here. Music-wise it’s basically a very simple folk song in an American style, so simple that anyone who has had a few lessons on a guitar can easily play it (please do! It’s only G, C and D). The lyrics are a simple retelling of a story in the gospels that is often called ‘the rich young ruler’ in English, a passage found in all three synoptic gospels (Mark 10:17-27, Matthew 19:16-22, Luke 18:18-34):

a rich young man came to Jesus Christ and asked
what should I do to get life, life eternal
you know the commandments Jesus replied
do not steal, do not kill do not commit adultery
yes I do know them he said, I followed them all, all of my life
Jesus said well then there’s one more thing that you have to do:

sell everything you have
and give it to the poor
yeah everything you have
get rid of it
sell everything you have
and give it to the poor
and you shall live

Jesus said do this and follow me
and you’ll have a great treasure in heaven
but the rich young man became very sad
for he did posses great wealth on earth
and he preferred it over the life
over the life eternal

easier it is for a camel
to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter
the kingdom of heaven

sell everything…

and if Jesus Christ would be here today
and preach the same words as he did back then in Galilee
we probably would kill him and lay him i a grave again
like good old woody sung years ago
we still don’t want to near those words
and explain them away if we read then…

sell everything… /easier it is…

Quite catchy, isn’t it?

So, why did I write and still this song if I didn’t exactly do what I sing myself? It’s clear that I didn’t sell all my possessions, nor that I am planning to so… The first explanation is that I sometimes write songs about things that I want to understand myself and try to learn more about, wrestling with the subject. But there’s a lot more that can and should be said.

Some in the first church might disagree here (a lot of people did sell everything, read acts) but I believe that while the command to the rich young ruler was not a general law for everyone, and only a personal advice to that one guy. But still there is a very grave warning about being rich in this story and other places of the New Testament that cannot be ignored if you that the bible seriously.
Or at least that’s what one who takes the bible at face value would think, but it seems one of the most-ignored biblical messages these days, even though there’s a very grave warning attached to it. Whatever the metaphor of the camel an the eye of the needle means (I’m not going into that discussion here, it only would distract) the range of interpretations one could have for “easier it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” goes from it being very very hard for rich persons to be saved to beyond impossible. It might be softened by ‘what’s impossible for humans is possible for God’, but it still looks like it looks very bleak for rich people when it comes to being saved.

It would be an understatement to say that according to Jesus there is something very dangerous about riches and money. The fact that the only false god Jesus calls by name is Mammon, his own personification of money should say enough here, but there is much more in the New Testament to back this up. Jesus literally says ‘blessed are the poor’ and ‘woe to the rich’ in Luke 6 for example. The apostles also have some interesting things to say. Let’s look at some bible verses, and I suggest that if you want to really think about this issue you read them slowly and prayerfully and let them sink in, and let the text read you.

Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money/Mammon.

(Note that the NET bible translates ‘Mammon’ into money here)
This is straightforward: Money competes with God, and if we serve money we will not be able to serve God. The danger of being rich here is that the things we think we own end up owning us, and take us away from God, and demand our soul.

1 Tim 6:6-11 6:6 Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit. 6:7 For we have brought nothing into this world and so we cannot take a single thing out either. 6:8 But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that. 6:9 Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains. 6:11 But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that. Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.

Paul echoes the same idea here, but adds different layers about temptation to it. Note that he is often misquoted here, he does not say that ‘money is the root of all evil’, but that the love of money is. This is an important distinction to contemplate.

There also is the famous warning against the rich from James, where he echoes Jesus from Luke 6 and seems to assume that riches often comes from a sinful life:

James 5:1-6 5:1 Come now, you rich! Weep and cry aloud over the miseries that are coming on you. 5:2 Your riches have rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten. 5:3 Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure! 5:4 Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5:5 You have lived indulgently and luxuriously on the earth. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 5:6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you.

No, that’s not Marx, that’s the New Testament, and it echoes countless passages from the prophets in the old testament, including the description of the sins of Sodom in Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 16:49-50 49 “‘See here—this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had majesty, abundance of food, and enjoyed carefree ease, but they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and practiced abominable deeds before me. Therefore when I saw it I removed them.

To complete this bible study, and to bring some balance to those who think that utter poverty is what all these verses point to (they don’t) I also connect this to the wisdom of Agur (no, I have no idea who he is either but he is included in the bible here as a wisdom teacher…) as recorded in proverbs 30:7-9 that I turned into another song on the same album, with less chords and instruments than ‘sell everything’, but a lot more weirdness. The music to ‘poverty nor riches’ might lose itself in pseudo-shamanic atmospheres and noisy freejazz interludes, the lyrics themselves are straight from the bible without much paraphrase:

Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
to not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me
and give me neither riches nor poverty
only my daily needs
for I may own too much and disown you
and say Who is the Lord
or I may become poor and steal
and so dishonour your name O Lord

How do we connect the dots here? It seems that there are great warnings against being wealthy in the bible, which are very often ignored. Which is quite dangerous, because relatively spoken we all are rich as Westerners. Compared to a lot of people in the global South today, and to most of the population in biblical times, we’re all rather wealthy and rich even though we often fail to see it. But the effect on our soul and our faith might still be there if we don’t watch out…

There are 2 very important realities about money.
* Money can very easily become an idol. Jesus doesn’t call it Mammon for nothing. This is not something new, a lot of philosophers and spiritual teachers in all kinds of traditions would agree about this. Money, and possessions in general are a dangerous idol that make it impossible to connect to God.
And some are willing to sacrifice human lives and whole ecosystems for. And that in our modern secular times… And that brings us to our second point:
* A lot of rich people have become rich by being oppressive or dishonest, as Jesus, James and the prophets tell us. This is evidently very bad for the involved oppressed, but it also is a sin that keeps the rich one away from God, makes one arrogant. If you dehumanise your brother to just a pawn in your game of getting richer instead as a person worth as much as you, deserving as much as you, you’re far from God indeed.

In spite all my rage I might still be just a rat in a cage. My album title ‘Safe Happy Christian Music for the Conservative Middleclass’ might be sarcastic but after all I still am Middleclass myself. Some people would look down on me as not earning much to certain contemporary standards, while others would see me as incredibly wealthy. (Including most of my forefathers in earlier eras, people from biblical and historical times, and people in the global South)

I’ve met people who knew what it is to live with nothing and trust God, living from day to day in faith and trust. While this is very basic Christianity, it also is something very few modern Christians need to develop, and something I know is seriously lacking in my faith life. I trust that I will have enough. I am a spoiled Westerner.

(The issue of being wealthy might even be part of why the West is losing its Christianity in this era btw. Faith is trusting in God as a Reality anyway, and we have made it accepting conceptual statements.)

As you see, these are things that I am still am struggling with. I don’t have all the answers, and even if I had them they will not sink in unless you have struggled with them yourselves.

Some will think I’m going way too far here, but I’m not sure of that. If you think I’m too soft on sin here, and want a more resolute input, I refer you to this excellent series by Micael Grenholm on Holy Spirit Activism who does argue it is a sin to be rich as a Christian. And his biblical explanation is quite strong, stronger than a lot of reasoning where super-important issues for some people are defended as ‘biblical’.

What do you people think?

peace

Bram

See also on this blog:
Abundance is the enemy of capitalism…
10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…
Teachings of the Early Church Fathers on Poverty & Wealth
the love of money vs. the way of Christ…
Christianity: first a question of allegiance, not worldview!

The American situation as a crisis for my faith


(warning: long autobiographical essay coming!) I grew up as a Pentecostal kid in a very secular post-catholic West-European country, the kind of place where Christianity and religion as a whole was seen by most people as something of the past, protestantism as a faraway historic religion, and evangelicalism as a weird cult that only exists elsewhere if that world is known already, which probably isn’t the case.  These things have changed a bit now, and I’m afraid not always for the better. The perception of ‘religion’ is even worse in certain milieus, but the attention of the anti-religious mafia has by now switched from old Catholicism to Islam due to sociological switches. And I fear that ‘evangelicalism’ instead of a noble unknown is now known to a lot people now as one of the contributing factors in the rise of the US president Donald Trump, who might be one of the least Christian persons in power I’ve ever seen and regarded by most Europeans as a dangerous madman. Which only increases the impression of certain people that religion is dangerous and makes people dumb and aggressive.

The sad thing is that Mr. Trump is the exact opposite of what one should be able to expect from a Christian, but it seems like not everyone is able to see that. Which is a problem, since I am a Christian, and I do not feel represented by whatever he represents at all. But that is for later, let’s first continue my story.

I must admit that it is not always simple to be a part of a minority faith in a secular world. I’d always be ‘different’ anyway, so it’s rather hard to separate what comes from my faith, and what comes from me just being me, the AD(H)D introverted boy who didn’t care about most things that get the general population excited, boring stuff like football -soccer for the US-ians-, cars, violent movies, oversexed nonsense, etc… but who was more into nature, art, science and philosophy. I always just assumed I’d be different for too much reasons, and assimilating without being seen is something I learned at a much later age. I do remember being kid in primary school in Lier, when everyone who was Flemish was supposed to be ‘catholic’, even though it was mainly cultural and traditional, most kids being completely unreligious but baptised as a baby where I was religious, but unbaptised. The only non-catholics in school apart from me were Turkish immigrants who were Muslims, which was an easy category unlike me. Even with the term ‘protestant’ I was an alien, an outsider, or even ‘neither Flemish nor Turkish’ as someone once described me.
(I know these things have changed by now. Now there will be much more immigrant kids of different religions at that school, and completely non-religious kids as well. The inevitable process of dechristianisation has reached a much further point by now, while more religious immigrants have integrated themselves even in smaller Town, and that includes a lot of different Christians too.)

Church was another world. An enclave from a different world. A tiny one, but it was connected to the wider church worldwide on a lot of continents. Sometimes there were missionaries in church bringing their story. Or bible smugglers, which was a big thing in the eighties when there still were communist regimes where you could be killed for being a Christian. The idea of Christianity as a persecuted minority was a logical one, but there was also a willingness to follow Jesus. The Pentecostals in Flanders did still have a lot of influence from the Jesus People and other Christian hippy movements, who had the crazy idea to take Jesus and the bible serious, even in the radical things. Just letting the bible say what it says was a big thing. And I believed it. And I read the gospels. And I saw something more impressive than what the world around me could give. Something more interesting than drugs and sex, than money and status, than sports and entertainment,…

I found among other things traces of The God I believe in is the Creator of the multiverse upholding it at every second, and the source of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. The God who is Love and Justice. As a Christian I believe that the incarnated Christ is the most accurate representation of God. Radical love for all, including oppressed and marginalised, like women, the poor, Samaritans, strangers,… and the oppressors, like the Romans and the mob that lynched him: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ (although there are rather uncomfortable words about riches)

This is what makes Christianity more Real to me. A love deeper and more radical than our human instincts. As David Wilkerson whom I liked to read as a teen said to gangster Nicky Cruz, ‘you can cut me in a thousand pieces and they will still love me’. As Shane Claiborne whom I loved to read as a twentysometing exemplified by living with the homeless in his city, or with almost being bombarded along with the Iraqi by his own country. Like Corrie Ten Boom who came out of the nazi concentration camps to preach about forgiveness and reconciliation. That is what inspired me because I knew it was True, an calling to me.

This is what always kept me a Christian. The sparks of a Greater Reality that shone in this love stronger than hate and division, and also the glimpses of a Reality bigger than our worldviews, which included the supernatural healing presence of God in different dimensions and in different ways.

As a teenager my father started a church plant with Vineyard, which is theologically more evangelical but still charismatic. I still went to the Pentecostal youth camps and events though, and had my friends there, until somewhere in my twenties. I learned a lot about God. I saw answered prayers. I heard impressive stories from everywhere around the world. I saw (among a lot of other things) a religion (on non-religion according to some, but that’s a mere language game). I also learned more about the history of Christianity, and the other Christian traditions and denominations. I already knew Francis of Assisi from catholic school, and I read a lot of C.S. Lewis, and various Catholic and Protestant authors. Those who had that love more real than all of our human constructs in it, and glimpses of the Reality beyond all our realities stayed and impacted me. Some didn’t and had just a lot of theories about God and church structures and whole constructions built on bible verses without any trace of God. I did them away quickly and forgot them. In the years I read everything from Jacques Ellul to David Bentley Hart, and found God in very different streams of Christianity (and sometimes glimpses of God in very different places outside of Christianity even).

As a young twentysomething in the 2000ths I discovered the ’emerging church dialogue’ on the internet while it was still healthy. I recognised some things about myself in the mumbo-jumbo about postmodernism, and I saw a lot of stuff that did connect with the Higher love of Christ. The whole supernatural dimension seemed entirely lacking though, and over time the whole thing shrivelled and turned into an US American inhouse thing, that got more influenced by -to me- new and rather narrow ideologies where only the oppressed mattered, and identities were more important than people, and unhealthy American realities were absolutised and pushed upon all of the world while speaking of decolonisation.
And with that I was out. The whole American thing [which sadly influences a lot of people around the world] just seemed too polluted over time. I had seen too much stuff in the ‘conservative’ side already that had pushed me as a Jesus-following evangelical away, but instead of finding a place beyond the modernist division of both halves of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ in which both were integrated again most ‘progressive Christianity’ stuff completely alienated me and gave me no traces of the Reality of Christ, only a lot of condemnation of ‘bigots’ and deeper trenches. While the visible part of the ‘conservative’ side in politics has become something that to me seemed opposite to anything Christ would stand for. Mammon, power, own country first, an economic orthodoxy of social Darwinist policies and no care for creation, and so on…
De-Americanising my sources to a certain degree was the only thing I could do to keep my spiritual sanity. But the US at this point did have a big influence on the religion that I’m a part of, and on the view a lot of people worldwide have of Christianity.  American ‘conservatives’ equating Christianity with their weird political system isn’t something that can be completely ignored in a world that is so connected as this one. Or at least I wasn’t able to do so.

Strangely at the same time there was the new Pope, who had taken up the name of Francis, who made more sense as a Christian than both sides of the American divide. Not that I agree with him as a conservative catholic about everything, but he has the love. And he knows that both the left and right (both in American and European sense) are full of nonsense most of the time and that often neither aligns with the gospel. A Christianity that has the love that goes deeper than all of our human stuff, love for the poor and despised without creating trenches against people of certain ‘identities’, and willingness to take the words of Jesus seriously. That’s the least I expect from a Christian. And evidently a search for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, for Love and Justice before other things.

And then the overseas situation gets even worse. Against all odds the US gets a president who is supposedly ‘conservative’ and from the party favoured by a lot of supposed Christians. A man who has no place for truth in a way that goes far beyond anything postmodern. A man who mocks the vulnerable and those who are in misery. A man for whom money, power and his ego seem the only guides. A man whose policies will destroy lives, and ecosystems. And a man who is presented by some Christians as ‘the Christian option’ because he will ‘make American great again’. The antithesis of all things True, Good, and even beautiful, and of Love and Justice has been hailed as a saviour. And I can’t be the only one who sees in the guy echoes of the weird antichrist characters of bad American seventies endtimes movies,  the kind that manages to sway all nominal Christians…

If anyone tries to sell me this mess as representing Christ, something breaks. It’s like accepting that water is dry, black is white, life is death, lies are truth. Or that slavery is freedom. Yes, he might not be the actual antichrist of dispensational pre-trib premillenialism, but the level of dystopia is rather disturbingly high anyway.

(Yes, we must pray for Trump, and bless him. But he is not worth more or more important than any sick refugee child either, and on the other hand him being a fellow human made in the image of God doesn’t mean that we should ignore how dangerous and destructive the bloke is. Loving those who are wrong doesn’t mean accepting their wrongness. Love the sinner hate the sin still applies, even if said sin is destroying the whole planet we should not hate them and yet cannot accept their destructive influence at all!)

So what prompted this post?
Yesterday I saw an older David Sorensen blogpost about Donald Trump being chosen by God, and it made me wonder about all these things. For those who don’t know him, David Sorensen is a part of my charismatic past, part of the Belgian scene, although not at all uncontroversial. I sort of did appreciate his first book when I was a lot younger, but there always were things that I completely disagreed with him too. And I’m not speaking about his style here, which is just a matter of taste. I’m more thinking about his crusade against Narnia movies for example…
I once heard him preach, and I couldn’t deny that he did bring across some Christian truths, in spite of the ‘I haven’t prepared and will let the Spirit guide me now’ approach which made him stretch things that have been said in 15 minutes  into a repetitive unstructured mess of a sermon that lasted about 2 hours. (It did give me more respect for the Spirit though, being able to get through with such a human vessel…)

I can’t deny that, even with all the weirdness I’m used to, and the fact that I know that the local US Christian population has fallen for Trump to I felt betrayed. And maybe I shouldn’t have been. Weed and wheat have been growing together since time began, and it’s always been a mixed well even though it brought me living water of Christ. But to see a tradition that I supposed tried to follow Christ follow a character that is almost the dialectic antithesis of everything Christ stood for without a trace of cognitive dissonance I do kind of despair.

I don’t despair because I lose my faith in Christ. I despair because I see a Christianity that takes people away from Christ. I despair because I feel torn apart.

And I need to remember that I need to ground myself in the Truth of Christ, in Love, and not in the internet which is full of toxic group spirits and dangerous distractions…

And then something whispers. Can we please remember that in times when Christianity is deteriorating and falling apart due to synchretism with antichristian powers it is not those who can reproduce the right theological constructs who are the ‘faithful remnant’, but that all knowledge, and even faith that moves mountains is nothing without Love?

(Read 1 Cor 13 please.)

And I remember that I’m faraway myself.

so what do you think?

peace

Bram

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