Navigating Through the Land of Sex and Candy

And there she was, like double cherry pie”.  O.K., I know.  This is a startling opening line for even a renegade Christian blogger/preacher-man such as myself.  But now that I’ve got your attention, let me explain.

I can remember when this song came out in 1997 while I was entering into my 33rd year on this earth, already past a time where this type of song would have jostled too much of my attention, other than the catchy beat and some guilty reminiscence of a guy I used to actually know.  Especially now as I was nestled down in Bible College for goodness sakes, learning how to compel a culture wrapped up in well… a “sex and candy” mindset, to somehow look in a different direction for alternative answers.  The song was catchy nonetheless, and I was quite familiar with its word pictures, what it symbolized, and also with whose title had come to epitomize for me an adequate representation of the “sexification” of our American culture.  Or to put it quite clearly, to now bring what happens in our bedrooms out into the public square and standing boldly in front of the door that once used to be at least a partially hidden closet.  And though most of us have had our own satiation of this world on our past resume to which this song implies, those on the narrow path should equally know that it is no longer to be our permanent address.  Something that at least used to be “crystal clear” to our now archaic community of Christ’ followers.  Yet since our entrance into the “free love sixties”, we have been on a mad dash into this “sexification” world.  A world with no apparent lock on this Pandora’s box now unabashedly wide open, which has now become a holy shrined replacement of anything that resembles a heteronormative sexual orientation within the confines of holy matrimony. 

You Don’t Even Have to Put on the Red Light

My first reminder of where America was headed was when in 1995 on my way to India, when we stopped off in Amsterdam for a couple of days.  As I checked into my hotel room (thank God with a roommate) and set my bags down, I reached over to cut the T.V. on to see what Amsterdam might have to say on its “boob-tube” as my dad “not so affectionally” used to call it.  And as I did, lo and behold, the first channel I came to “proved” he had been on to something as its content included the most “down and dirty” pornography that one could possibly imagine.  As I looked at my roommate (both of us now embarking on a mission to “save the world” in India) we both realized collectively at that moment that we were definitely not in Kansas anymore.  This was equally confirmed as we headed into the city (not even in the “red light” district), where we passed by the likes of intravenous drug users and free-fallen dope smokers, and into the local markets where this same “sexploitation” was out front and center as you passed by each venue.  The “shock and awe” of it all to me however (to which is my main point) was that men, women and children marched along almost “oblivious” to my opposing view of it being somehow “out of place”, and at which to them had become a very comfortable desensitization to it all.  And as I noticed these sights and sounds of the city alongside its picturesque beauty, I was reminded what it might have been like for Paul walking around in Ephesus near the shrine of Artemis some 2000 years ago.  A place where sex and religion were mixed together like, well… “sex and candy”, and offered to anyone who cared to stop and take a bite of both!  And though in many ways Paul knew exactly what my roommate and I were going through that day, I would guess that he would not even begin to imagine our ability now to enter into a virtual world of this same experience with the mere click of a button, and somehow usher in sexual nirvana right into the privacy of our very own homes.

Just Trying to Say Something

Fast forward to 2021, and I’m quite sure Amsterdam and Ephesus are somewhat jealous of our adoption and noted perfection of their sexual deviance that has become so commonplace that even the church has forgotten to blush!  In addition to being in a world where the so-called “patriarchy” were once the ruling class of sexual predators, yet who have now been replaced by the matriarchs who now threaten to usurp their lofty position!  But in the name of diversity and inclusion, let’s not leave out the “sweet transvestites”, the “pansexuals”, and everything in between.  After all, homosexuals and bi-sexuals are so “yesterday’s news” aren’t they?  But before everyone presumes a judgmental tone in my sexual sarcasms they would label as stereotypical of the Christian community, let me say I mean it not as such here; but rather to illustrate my original point.  In other words, as a Christian, I wish to simply state what is the obvious “elephant in the room” of the world’s oversexualization of which you and I are now called to navigate through on the increasingly narrow path.  All the while with equal sensitivity to a myriad of other ills that seek to now militantly call into question everything that has a hint of an absolute once binding on the average Tom, Dick and Harry.  Yet as someone who claims to be a Christian, and who is to love the very types of people which I sought to identify here by their own classification of such terms, I also want to say that a Christian “has” to part ways with this pervasive narrative of sexual “indifference” from any sexuality outside of the confines of marriage between a man and a woman.  To not say so in fact, is to not only deny one’s desire to disagree agreeably, but also the capability to believe in anything outside of that which has been marked as a now accepted “national orthodoxy” without threat of our outright dismissal of any participation in the discussion. 

Sex Education

Now to be sure, as we navigate along this Brave New World as those who still claim to believe what the church and the scriptures have always believed about these things while still trying to love those who differ, our path has become even more claustrophobically narrow it seems.  For as I write this (as I alluded to in my opening) more and more of those who “used” to believe these very things within Christendom either no longer do, or have totally forgotten that the scripture says a whole lot about these very things in addition to the corresponding result of a culture whose sexual diversity becomes sanctioned with a legislative hammer.  And yet even so, the Shepherds who “used to know” what we all knew, somehow; with a faulty hermeneutic sleight of hand and arguments from “nothing-burger” silence, have convinced us of the need to “get with the times” on what the culture has already decided for us.  And if this wasn’t bad enough, we have now concluded (also in the name of diversity and inclusion) that our sexual orientations and the free expression thereof should be taught in the textbooks of kindergarteners and prepubescents, right alongside Are You My Mother and the frickin Pythagorean theorem! 

The Pogo Blues

But in the end, I don’t propose there is anything more we can say on the matter.  For the culture has now tried us, and in case you haven’t noticed, we have been found perniciously wanting.  Along with the fact that there aren’t any more “phobe” terms left they can attach to our outdated constituency of an antiquated religion evidently long overdue for a makeover.  Meanwhile, if that wasn’t quite enough, in the land of “sex and candy” it appears that the culture has indeed found its enemy, and in case you were wondering; it most definitely seems to be you and I.

Selah

Still Playing Hard to Get

I used to know something in my heart a long time ago.  Somehow innately, I knew that though the Lord loves us all unconditionally through grace alone, but that He actually searches “to and fro” for, and thus more readily “strongly supports those whose heart is completely His”.  We find this recorded in II Chronicles 16:9 when we hear the continual sad story of Israel’s history of Kings exemplified by Asa in this case, who only occasionally “relied on the Lord” (vs. 8), yet more often than not did what was expedient and right in their own eyes. Of course, the real travesty is, that in the regular nature of their apostasy towards God, even on their death bed they “did not seek the Lord, but the physicians” (vs. 12).  And though Asa’s name is written down for us to reflect upon, no one will remember his name as someone who’s heart was completely God’s by any stretch of the imagination.  As is the historic story of God’s people.  As is the story sometimes as I look in my own mirror and perhaps even yours.  And though like Achilles, the prospect of someone not “remembering my name” causes me to be less squandering and unwasteful with the remainder of my days with the actual “shipping” of some form of art, the only thing that really concerns me now in the stillness of the night watches is that God knows my name; and that he no longer need look “to and fro” for my enduring allegiance.  This is nothing less than “real” faith and in stark antithesis of more regular encounters of “religious” child’s play.  It is the stuff of “taking the faith thing seriously”, and also one of constantly being reminded as to the reason there are only few who acquire the “Saint” status.  And even so, this has caused me no less sleepless nights with periodic awakenings of being at least one who has now caused God’s search to be finally over, honing down like a laser beam on my specific “heart’s cry” address. 

Where Else Can We Really Go?

I’m also reminded of another passage found in John chapter 6, where after the Lord has been repeatedly laying out one difficult saying after another, the crowd starts to quickly diminish.  These were sayings that were hard for them to both bear or understand, thus causing many to turn and walk away from any future potentiality of faith.  And yet in the closing scene, Jesus then asks his twelve the question I think He asks all of us as we eventually find out the way is indeed narrow and hard, causing few to actually find it.  He says, “You do not want to go away also, do you”? (John 6:67 NASB).  And then my boy Peter, who occasionally gets it absolutely right and does not disappoint here, puts forth a line that I have kept before me often as I continue to trek along this oft lonesome road where he says, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (vs. 68 and 69).  Mic drop of silence please!

Believing, While Asking Help for My Unbelief

So I guess you could say these two passages have consumed my thoughts quite regularly after thirty-years of stumbling along trying to be more like Peter, or the man that God was looking for that He couldn’t actually find.  And as I occasionally look to guides along the path to steer me towards this type of Holy grail discovery and still occasionally gleaning a morsel of crumbs to add to the daily bread, I increasingly become exhausted with Job’s friend’s matter-of-factness of the way forward; added to a mixture of my own default to pragmatism and seemingly empty promises of victory and power with more effort and stalwart faith.  As a result, I am somehow simultaneously entangled and surrounded by Asa’s who still seek “the physicians”, pretty much like everyone else.  All the while, we continue to hear from men and women talking and speaking of true miracles that few of us rarely see, yet who contend that if we can just get the water right in the pool of church theatrics then the miracle is just a moment away.  And though I believe in miracles and hear tell of amazing things that happen outside of my particular home of origin, I often wonder if God spreads his “strong support” much thinner than we might propose.  And one wonders whether or not any of us can still seek it with all our hearts, yet often walk alone amongst a crowd of mere “spectator sports”, yet likewise recognizing that “though we have not seen Him, we love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (I Pet. 1:8,9 NASB).

God Plays “Hard to Get”

I’ve often likened God to Rich Mullins’ interpretation of Him in one of his songs (and I think scripture bears this out) as one who often plays “hard to get”.  In fact, if I were quite honest, I would have to say that this has been my experience most of the way along this narrow path.  Nonetheless, like my best girl who still sticks around after all these years; it is that very nature of her (and thus God) that kept me hard after her in constant pursuit.  To be sure there have been ups and downs, but the chase has been equally as worthwhile as when she finally turns to me with the intimate embrace I’ve been longing for. 

I think God is an awful lot like that.  Yet He seems to make me wait a good bit longer. And though as one who occasionally peddles the gospel before an unsuspecting crowd, my own desert wanderings and doubt of His abiding presence and “strong support” in my life still often keep me feeling about as vulnerable as unsuspicious deer on the first day of hunting season.  And so like Asa, I’m often prone to looking for a self-help book, an unholy alliance, or in resorting to “the physicians” instead of forever resting in the fact that “sink or swim” I’ve made the decision to still take the low and narrow road till death do us part.  In fact, that is one thing that seems to be as constant and steady as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.

Nothing Else Will Do!

So I guess you could say God is still looking “to and fro”, and I’m still hoping he finds me running headlong towards him with everything I’ve got. I still come to his word each day like a salivating dog hoping for his daily bone from one whose scriptural promise of such a tasty treat is freely available, even though the “still small voice” often seems to remain affectionately “one-trick shy”. I also occasionally steal away into my own prayer closet with the bread and wine, or to the closest sabbatical of a dimly lit church or an oceanic shrine not far from me, hoping for the epiphany of “this is the way Mark, walk ye in it”. Hoping to somehow jar Him from His busyness of running the world in order to bend down and give me an affectionate “attaboy” as well. Yet as I search for Him and somehow never truly find all of Him that I long for, I’m still forever stubbornly resigned to the fact that without His touch and without His “strong support”, not only will “I” not make it, but the world cannot possibly know and take notice of His power that we are told once “turned the world upside down”! In fact, even now I am more convinced that at this very moment, nothing less than this will ever do.

Selah

What’s Hiding Behind Our Masks of Slavery?

Just the Facts Ma’am

It was Sergeant Friday who coined the phrase “Just the Facts Ma’am”.  It stuck in our minds as something that should be quite obvious to anyone.  If you just produce the facts, then the truth easily becomes “incontrovertible”, as Churchill would add.  To be sure Postmodernism (which has been with us for quite some time now), has questioned the possibility of truth outside of a given community’s interpretation thereof (identity groups).  Thus in the modern world, where we once upon a time could actually “know” things, we have now long lived inside a world whose ethos is that “truth is relative” and merely a shade of grey in the eye of the beholder; unless of course your particular community now says it isn’t.  So to be sure, Sergeant Friday would have a tough time around these parts and would have surely turned in his badge and gun to open up a cleaners or something.  Anything pray tell, but “pose” as someone who could ascertain something once called truth, or ever be on the right side of it.

Conspiracy Theories

COVID-19’s true death toll, cure rate and classification as a true pandemic that could be the undoing of us all fits quite nicely into this reality of relativism gone amuck (irony of ironies).  The “party of science” is sure we’re just one sandwich shy of a domestic terrorism picnic, calling any such questioning of their data as a conspiracy theorist dreams.  The “anti-science” party of Donald Trump (dumbasses to be sure) “tweets” before it ponders, and in the oppositions’ eyes, the mere questioning of their talking points are now labeled conveniently in the realm of “hate speech,” and thus are “de-platformed” and thrown into the dustbin of those who rightly now deserve “zero” runway in the marketplace of ideas.  Yet, it seems quite apparent to many inquiring minds that the conspiracy theories that used to be called into question have now become a higher modicum of truth “not” so easily found on anybody’s favorite evening news? 

Prophetic Alert

It was the late Francis Schaeffer, who in his book written in the 1970’s called “How Should We Then Live”, sounded an alarm, at least from a “so-called” Christian West perspective, that he said would be the one thing that would ultimately do us all in before we even knew what hit us.  He rightly reminded us that the values of “personal peace and affluence” and not “In God We Trust” were the real faith and doctrines that we held dear, and that once those values were threatened, coupled with a culture now bereft of anything called “right or wrong”, in his words; in order to keep both, we would gladly render ourselves as willing slaves to whomever promised the continual primrose path. 

In the height of the COVID-19 pandemonium, with a church virtually shut down (numerous puns intended), and vast industries of economic significance to the people who have not yet survived its new restrictions on their “inalienable rights”, it still seems as if Francis is speaking to us about a day still not yet in front of us.  However, it does appear as though it is one whose surety seems as real as death and taxes for us all.  For at least for now; like 9-11, the economic downturn of 2008 and the likes of the COVID-19 crisis, at least some of America’s more middle- and upper-class population have bypassed yet again the opportunity to see if what Francis said is indeed true and taken to its logical outworking in our country.  All the while vast markets and myriads of unseen people disappear from our masked view and find their places among the trash heap of economic Darwinism and under the bridges where they now settle in for the night.  Tsk, tsk.  Meanwhile, those leading us commend us to “masking” and “vaccing” this inconvenience to our personal peace and affluence out of our lives and have resigned to “tipping” the American populace by direct deposit, while simultaneously bankrupting us and our children into oblivion.  They are our pied pipers who have now called the tune, bidding us to simply sing in unison with the added refrain, “Thank you sir, can I have another”.

Masks of Slavery, Fear or Business as Usual?

To say that the majority of people we pass on the street or see in our favorite stores from week to week “masked-up” are in any way taking these things quite as serious as I am is to affirm the obvious.  They are not by and large.  My brief observation about the predicament as it relates to the vast American populace is simply that the mask itself is representative of a couple of things.  First of all, the mask now hides what the average Joe and Mary were hiding along: who they really are behind their face façade, behind their wall of privatization and their desire to simply get what they need and move on without human engagement.  Secondly, for the church at least, despite decades of mass irrelevance and with nothing to say worth listening to from a majority, those we pass in our favorite stores with bumper stickers that show “fish” and “God is my copilot” have equivalently shown that they are just as scared of dying as the rest of us.  They are also those who can continue to shuffle in and out of their virtual sanctuaries (occasionally), or after a year now, are found shuffling in (properly social distanced and masked of course) to the beat of the same predictable “church as services only” drum (3 songs, prayer, announcement, sermon, prayer and we’re done).  And the world spins madly on.

What are actual Christians supposed to do?

But the real question for all of us who are attempting to get back up on the narrow path day after day and to at least give a “college try” to this thing called the Christian life is: What is our response to be as image bearers in light of this challenge? One thing is for sure, as Christians in a country that at least used to ensure “inalienable rights” for the collective whole, if the bible is any record of how we might then live in response, the answer to this looming question is something we should consider with deeply.  This takes real work to be sure.  Yet some overarching themes for our consideration are at least striving to live authentically before God and others (possibly without masks); real thoughts around how the church has biblically and historically responded to crises such as these; and additionally, as characteristically prophetic people “pushing back” on the pervasive narrative that our culture is selling us ad nauseum.  In addition, speaking authentically and Christianly as a “free” citizenry to the power brokers of the world and the church who now seem to be cooperatively asking us to become chameleons, blending in with whatever the latest cultural talking point is, rather than as those who called to be “salt and light”.  Those who will speak prophetic truthfulness regularly as our posture in an increasingly nauseating and tasteless world that will predictively have an autopilot gag reflex to most everything we are saying.  At least then we’d again be known for obeying God rather than men when it actually counts, in the anomaly of a free Republic; with a voice of reason and salvific counterpropositions amidst a noisy and insubstantial public square.  A square that has surely now become mere tales told by a mass of village idiots, full of sound and fury, all the while signifying absolutely nothing!

Selah