Silas, Maelin, you’re both asleep as I write. Your tiny eyes are closed, and the blankets you threw off during the night are in disarray around you.
You’re snug, cozy, secure.
When you’re awake you’re filled with wonder, energy, excitement, curiosity for life.
Needless to say, I’m a proud dad.
I’m proud of who each of you are. Silas, you’re fascinated with the world. Recently, your big phrase has been, “why daddy, why?” You have got to know how things work in the world. Maelin, you are bold, ruggedly driven to keep up with your brother who is more than twice your age. As a second son myself, I respect your tenacity [and you’re only 1!].
Right now, you’re both concerned about why mommy is away at class [because she’s learning!] or why daddy has to go to work [you’re going on your bike, daddy]. You want to hear our stories about the Gentle Giant, to read books with us, to go on adventures with us.
Eventually, you’re going to wonder new kinds of questions. You’ll begin to ask about what is the source of happiness and deep joy-why people flourish and find contentment in life. Conversely, you’ll want to know what causes unrest and violence in families and communities, what the source of evil is might be.
Mommy and I are going to do our absolute best to walk you each through these questions. We’ll talk about how God is good, how God created each of us-and this beautiful world we live in, and about how God is at work through the Spirit in the church that Jesus initiated-and how the church tries [with the Spirit’s help!] to point us toward the kingdom of heaven, the place where God’s reign is evident.
We’ll also tell you about new creation, the way that Jesus will return to earth and how heaven and earth will one day no longer be separate.
Chances are, there will be some confusion. You’ll wonder if what we’re saying is true. You’ll wonder how the kingdom of God operates. You’ll have doubts, for sure, but also times when you’re convinced God is really at work. Your faith will fluctuate, but your parents will be praying it forward at every step.
You’ll also have questions about sexuality, and whether or not you voice those questions to us, we are going to be talking through a lot of different things related to relationships and sexuality with you both!
Accordingly, I want to touch on an aspect of our current cultural situation. A lot of women have been recently adding portions of their life stories to a Twitter campaign. Using the hashtag #metoo, they’re letting the world know about how men in their lives have done them wrong.
And there is a massive response. Countless male celebrities and politicians are being called out for their sexual harassment, advances on women, their sexual assaults, their acts of rape. There is power in seeing such powerful men humbled. This happens at church too [#churchtoo], and it’s meaningful to see the hashtag campaign prompting some acts of inner-reformation to the faith community.
The #metoo campaign is giving voice and strength to women who have not felt empowered to share their pain-and we need to listen closely. Recently someone Tweeted about how Christmas is, in part, about believing a woman about her sexual experiences. Indeed, before a holy dream, Joseph had his doubts about his fiancé’s sex life!
When women gain the courage to honestly share their stories, it brings accountability to men who have taken advantage of their powerful positions.
All of that said, there are countless, well-meaning Tweets directed at men saying things along the lines of, “get better, men” or “come on men of America, step up your game.” This is a well-intentioned but sadly unhelpful sentiment, for it offers no pathway forward besides essentially pulling oneself up by the bootstraps.
This “get better” mentality imbues shame while failing to provide resources or direction. Yes, men must get better; but a Tweet won’t fix us. Holy Spirit-inspired, heart-based spiritual transformation will.
With the #metoo campaign happening, I want to offer three ways to not only stay far away from such accusations, but prevent the very conditions that allow for it-to experience heart transformation. The road toward sexual violence has a great many pitstops, from the way a young person observes their parents’ attitudes toward sex, to how they internalize those messages, to pornography or other sexual addictions, to how they approach the place of sex in relationships.
To change the world, we must ourselves be changed.
To me, sex is to happen in the context of committed marriage, and women [and men too, obviously] are to be respected both relationally and sexually. This may sound odd or old-fashioned, but I believe this is the best way to approach relationships and sex.
The Bible never makes a separation between sex and marriage; they are always part of the same bond. I’m of that same mindset, and there happen to be a great number of resources and research that reveal where the Bible’s ancient wisdom intersects with contemporary life.
Anyway, here are a few admonitions that I want to impart to each of you, just a few steps that will keep you on a path that I pray will lead to relational wholeness. Even if you’re never as famous as Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Clinton, Louis C.K., or Bill Cosby, the people you end up in relationship with have much to gain or lose as the women affected by these famous men now caught in their sin [sexual violations of various kinds].
1. Stay anchored in Jesus spiritually, and take his teachings seriously.
As Christians, we metaphorically participate in the life of Jesus by participating in the body of Christ, the church. Jesus emptied Himself in order that God might fill Him up [Philippians 2:6-11], and in a similar way we, as Christians, learn to imitate Jesus and allow the Spirit of Christ to fill us up.
When it comes to sex, Jesus’s clearest teaching is probably the soaring Sermon on the Mount found in the New Testament’s first book, Matthew, in chapters 5-7. Eugene Peterson translates verses 27-28 like this:
You know the next commandment pretty well, too: ‘Don’t go to bed with another’s spouse.’ But don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices-they also corrupt.
Jesus was talking to Jewish folks who were pretty well-acquainted the laws of the Pentateuch [first 5 books of the Bible]. But some Jewish folks had also gotten pretty good at finding ways around the law. A look into first-century rabbinical literature will reveal varying viewpoints on the permissibility of divorce for various reasons [like when a man’s wife fails to cook a meal to his liking-that’s a serious problem!].
Instead of entering the banter regarding the ins and outs of divorce, Jesus goes straight to the soul. He confronts the heart-attitudes that drive and direct us. Indeed, the heart can be corrupted rather quickly.
And how egregious are the consequences? It’s impossible to overestimate the pain that sexual violence causes. Women are driven to depression, anxiety, isolation, and even suicide. Don’t believe me? Start listening, please, not for me but for people who are affected. Talk to mom about what she has gone through, she’ll be more than willing to share with you. Talk to the [at least] one in three women who has experienced sexual trauma.
An old friend recently posted this picture on Facebook. This isn’t the complete text of what she posted, but it’s the beginning:
Surviving sexual assault is strange.
It is so many different things to so many different people.
It is working downtown and getting out after dark. So, you make sure to take your ponytail out, change into shoes you can run in, activate your emergency apps, make sure not to wear a scarf or visible necklace, put your keys between your fingers, and call a friend who will talk to you on the walk to your car. Making sure to text when you get home safe.
This is the too-often unspoken reality of sexual assault and abuse. It’s fear that no one should have to experience.
Silas, Maelin, take Jesus seriously! He cares about your soul-yet also about other people in your lives who you affect. Your actions matter. Jesus wants the very best for you and even provides a path to get there. Would you grow into your full spiritual stature and take it? Respecting women and ordering your relationships rightly may take a lot of work, but it’s worth it.
I love you guys.
Ok, on to the next thought.
2. Connect with a local church and be willing to be changed through it.
Yes, we have raised you guys in church, and by now you have seen the flaws and inconsistencies native to the community of faith.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not shaping you positively. If we disassociated ourselves with every flawed institution and person we’d be stranded entirely. There is no politician, business, organization, or individual apart from Jesus who is unflawed, who is without sin. And Jesus leads the church. That’s good news.
When we’re around church for long enough, it becomes less a place where we learn new things about God and more a place where we are reminded and empowered to live into what we already know. It becomes less a place where we find new spiritual insights and more a place where we have a community to put those insights into real-world practice.
Our communities shape us.
Be a faithful member of a community that will shape you to know and love and follow Jesus.
3. Build real, lasting spiritual friendships
There’s a reason I write this directly after the local church piece, for it is so often through the relationships begun in the church community that spiritual relationships grow.
That said, this particular admonition comes from two places within my life experience: 1. experiencing the power of deep spiritual friendship, and 2. at various seasons, not having those relationships and subsequently discovering what I was missing.
Through spiritual friends, God offers us godself. Created in God’s image, when we are at our best, we can help others experience the reality of God’s kingdom.
There are parts of every person that reflect not our brokenness but God’s wholeness; not our dis-integration but God’s ordered-ness.
And this is why I want to encourage each of you to seek deep friendships, and to carve out a place for trust, for listening, for confession, for accountability, for support, and maybe all of this for a lifetime.
Silas, Maelin, we want your hearts to be transformed! Not only do we want you to stay out of any kind of trouble, but we want your soul to resonate with Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith. We don’t want you to live lives that are based on looking good and pretending to be some awesome person; instead, we want to deeply desire the things we were created to desire and to walk humbly with Jesus.
Love, mommy and daddy.