sexuality

Beyond Bathrooms

So, this whole transgender bathroom issue is the big issue in sexuality and society these days. Please forgive me for not giving too much thought to this.  Usually when I go to a public toilet, I could care less what the other guy is doing.  I am there to do my business, wash my hands, and leave.  If a transgender male feels uncomfortable standing at a urinal, I doubt if anyone is going to harass him for sitting in a stall.  I don’t even know of any lesbian who would want to stand at a urinal.  As far as pervert rapist fronting to be Trans to go in women’s restrooms to attack women and girls, there are children of either sex being raped in public restrooms even without this new transgender bathroom thing.

Actually, there is a far bigger issue of sexuality in America that no one wants to talk about because we are all, in some way or another, guilty of it. Jesus put it down like this:  “Whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28).  Lust is the exploitation of another person for one’s own gratification with or without the consent of the person being lusted after.  It is a mental form of sexual abuse.  When the abuse goes from the mental to the physical, we call it sexual assault or rape.  If the objectified person does consent to the act, she becomes nothing but a plaything for the abuser as he is seeking his own pleasure only regardless of her experience.  Even in marriage, if the husband and wife aren’t approaching each other for the sake of expressing their love and loyalty for each other but solely for their own gratification in spite of the experience of the partner, that is not lovemaking.

We are a nation of mental rapist with a society which encourages us to objectify the opposite sex for our own gratification. This is quite obvious in pornography where young women are persuaded (if not forced) to surrender their bodies to very degrading sex acts.  It is said that male performers also feel cheapened by the things they get paid to do and both frequently abuse drugs in an attempt to ease their consciences.  In some reports, the porn industry generates more money in this nation than all of the major sports leagues combined.

But, Satan needs not to drag us all into the world of hardcore pornography to turn us into mental rapist. Our society is so saturated with sexual images that we barely blink an eye at them.  There was a time when the Sports Illustrated “swimsuit” issue was nothing more than a couple of pages of a young woman somewhere in-between an article about Mean Joe Green and baseball’s spring training.  Now it is its own separate issue with the model photographed so suggestively that it magazine has to be covered on the news stand.  Nearly every sit-com has sexual jokes and situations.  Victoria’s Secrets has well-advertised television specials.  And women are encouraged to dress and feel “sexy.”  Men are also objectified as bare chested and muscular visions for the female appetite.

While we are outraged by men who rape and women who seduce young boys to have sex with them, we think little or nothing about the way we objectify one another. Yet this mental sexual abuse is a core reason of why so many of us fail to establish and maintain platonic friendships with the opposite sex and keep marriages from falling into divorce.  We are not considering that man or woman as a being made in the image of God.  We are only thinking about how we want them to please our desires.  While we Christians are good at declaring the surface level standard of the male-female marriage, we make way too many excuses too often for our lusting of one another.  Not only are we silent against a business like “Hooters,” we accept their money for our churches and will patronize them because, “they have really good hot wings.”  It is no wonder then that the homosexuals feel that they can establish and maintain relationships just as good (or poorly) as we do.  It is no wonder that impressionable teens and pre-teens are confused about how they want to be known sexually.  Fighting against transgender restrooms, worthy as the fight may be is a mere surface solution to a surface problem.  Unless we Christians get serious about repenting of our own mental raping of one another, the transgender and other challenges to the heterosexual standard will not disappear.  Indeed, more destructive ones will arise.

So, yeah, Pres. Obama and the LGBT have gone too far with this bathroom thing. Yeah, there are conservative Christians who have pulled some silly stunts to protest against it.  This issue is a symptom of our society’s sickness of mental rape.  And rape is the use of another person’s body for the sake of our own gratification regardless of the will of the other.  There is no quick fix for this deeper sickness.  We all will have to be repentant and transform our desires from selfish lust to selfless compassion.  Instead of hiding behind the cross, let’s try carrying it for the sake of healing what is really wrong with us.

The Trap of Little Sins

I have a little print-paper icon of St. Moses of Ethiopia that I use as a bookmark.  It is currently in use as I read My Life in Christ by St. John of Kronstadt as part of my bedroom prayer rule.  On the icon are these words from the African monastic,

Even in little sins, let us force ourselves and not become lazy for truly we have forgiveness of sins

From the Russian priest, I found these words on page 58,

Most men not only bear Satan’s burden willingly in their hearts, but they become so accustomed to it that they often do not feel it, and even imperceptibly increase it

moses and kronstadt

It is not hard for us to wake up and repent of our “big” sins.  We are quick to be offended, saddened, or feel some other emotion when an obvious act of immorality has been committed.  If our vision along our spiritual journey goes no further than what can readily be seen, then Satan has blinded us.  As long as we aren’t observant that we don’t fall for the “minor” temptations and make excuses for us committing them, the evil one is allowing us to rot from the inside.  He is often waiting for the rot to set in so deeply that when faced with a major temptation, we will fall quite easily and not realize how we could do such a thing.

Oh, it is a little thing for a man to “check out” a shapely woman every now and then and consider it harmless.  Yet, our Lord taught us better;

But, I say to you, if a man looks upon a woman to lust for her, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  (Matthew 5:28)

In many cases of child molestation and rape it is not unusual for law enforcement to find the perpetrator had a pornography habit.  Affairs and fornication begin with the eyes and the mind long before the sexual organs are involved.  And rather than confront a son’s (or daughter’s, I suppose) lengthy times in the restroom or alone online, even Christian parents resign themselves to the phrase, “boys will be boys.”  The perpetual laziness in not being watchful against and embracing lust is the cause of men and women failing at relationships as we don’t know how to relate to one another as beings who pursue purity of heart.  Even as we pursue our “soul mates,” lust stains our souls so that we wouldn’t know the “right one” unless an archangel actually pointed him (or her) out.  And even if we do find a good spouse, those little sins left unchecked and well fed are able to rot the best of marriages.

Murder can begin with unchecked anger, theft with envy, hate with pride; every “big” sin begins with a “little” sin, or a series of “little” sins.  Care must be taken that we search them out within ourselves in times of contemplation and prayer.  We who seek God cannot afford to accept the worldly excuses for them.  They must not be tolerated in ourselves.  But, we must repent of them no matter how minor they may seem.

 

 

 

St Mary of Egypt: An Antidote for Sexual Addictions

Most people struggle with lust from time to time.  We all aren’t so overcome by it that we have violated anyone else.  But, with so much “eye candy” presented to us in every form of media, we are all guilty of thoughts and actions that we are ashamed of.  Of course, we Christians are quick to say, “Just Take It To Jesus And Pray.”  And this is the ultimate solution to our struggle with impure sexual thoughts, words, and actions.  But, our Lord also gives us forerunners who have struggled with and overcame the same sins which besiege us today as there is nothing new under the sun.  Among such great men and women who have been transformed by the power of repentance and forgiveness is Mary of Egypt.

St. Mary of Egypt

Mary was a sex addict.  She gave into lust at the age of 12.  In her story to the monk/priest Zosimas, she wasn’t forced into prostitution or the victim of rape or incest.  She just loved sex and would give herself simply for pleasure and not money. After some 17 years of her shameless behavior, she joined a group of pilgrims sailing from Egypt to Jerusalem to venerate the Holy Cross.  She used her body to pay her fare constantly tempting men to have their way with her.

When she came to the church, she sought to enter.  Time and time again, she was blocked by an invisible force.  She realized that the force was her own sinful lifestyle that kept her from entering the church.  She grieved  deeply at this revelation.  Seeing an icon of the Theotokos, Mary repented of her lustfulness promising that if she were allowed to worship at the Cross that she would no longer live in her sexual exploits.  After her prayer, she was able to walk into the church and worship.

Mary made good on her promise.  She crossed the Jordan River and went into the desert with nothing more than three loaves of bread and the clothes on her back.  Led by the Holy Spirit, she lived in the desert for 47 years repenting of her sins.  This was no easy feat.  The thoughts of her former pleasures tormented her.  The desire for meats, wine, and other things also tempted her to leave the desert.  Yet, she constantly prayed in deep humility and tears to be free from her lust.  It took some 17 years of struggles to be free from her sexual addiction and lust.

Fr. Zosimas giving the Eucharist to Mary

It wasn’t until she met Zosimas in the desert that she even saw and spoke to another person.  By that time, her clothing was completely gone and he gave her his outer robe to cover her.  He saw the holiness of her story and her prayers.  The following year, he was able to give her the Eucharist.  The year after that, Mary was found dead.

Mary shows us that sexual immorality keeps us from the fullness of Christ.  Oh, we may still go to church and worship.  We may even make excuses for what we do.  “They were just pictures.  I was born this way.  We are in love, so it’s okay.”  Let’s stop fooling ourselves.  The sexually immoral will have no part in the kingdom of God.   Mary shows us that our repentance must be serious.  Casually saying, “well, the Lord knows my heart,” is not enough.  There should be a deep sorrow for what we have done and a serious commitment to change our ways.  Mary shows us that our struggle against sin is not always over in an instant.  Some addictions are stubborn to leave us and can only be overcome by (as our Lord taught His disciples) by prayer and fasting.  And indeed, fasting should be a part of the life of the faithful.  By following Mary’s example of following Christ, we can overcome even the worst of our sexual sins and live in purity.

The icon of St. Mary of Egypt at St. Basil the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church in Hampton

The icon of St. Mary of Egypt at St. Basil the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church in Hampton

Having been a sinful woman,

You became through repentance a Bride of Christ.

Having attained angelic life,

You defeated demons with the weapon of the Cross;

Therefore, O most glorious Mary you are a Bride of the Kingdom!

The Ever Virgin Mary: My Bull’s- Eye Theory

“Failure is not the problem.  The problem is low aim.” — Dr. Benjamin Mays

Yes, I believe that Mary was a virgin through-out her life.  This belief was central in early church doctrine, continued (though somewhat skewed) in Roman Catholicism, and was unchallenged by the first wave of church reformers.  It wasn’t until the more radical reformed churches came into being that the perpetual virginity of Mary was questioned and rejected.  Many make this error based on the scripture that Jesus had brothers and sisters with His mother waiting to speak to Him even though in that culture one’s cousins were also counted as siblings.  Others are misled by the text where Joseph did not know (as in carnal knowledge) Mary until she bore her son and named him Jesus.  This is a translation problem for in the same Gospel, Jesus declares He will be with us until the end of the age.  By that logic, after the end of the age, Jesus will no longer be with us.  Also, if Jesus did have blood siblings as we define them by our western standard, why is it that he left the care of His mother to a disciple rather than one of the children she supposedly gave birth to?

O Virgin Pure

Perhaps the most disturbing and failed excuse for rejecting Mary as ever virgin is that “she was still human.”  Yes, I believe and the Church teaches that Mary was fully human.  But, is it wise to believe that the natural state of humanity is to wallow in desires of the flesh, or to pursue purity and unity with God? If we aim for the best standard of physical pleasure, sex in heterosexual marriage, we aim for what God has ordained under the Old Covenant, which is good.  As humans, we have a chronic tendency to fall short of our goals.  Pursuing pleasure often distracts us from our goals.  In fact, we tend to excuse personal fulfillment of pleasure as a greater good (“all is fair in love and war”).  Combine aiming for the lesser goal with our tendency to fall short of our goals and the distraction of pleasure and you have a recipe for a society doomed for sexual failure.  It is like a darts thrower who never aims for the bull’s eye.  If there is no central point that he seeks, he will barely reach the inner circle where there is great value.  Instead, his darts will land on various parts of the board (at best) and may even stray far away from the board and hit by-standers causing injury.

But, let a society pursue the purity of an ever virgin Mary.  There is an unusual purity to aim for; to be human and offer one’s sexuality as a sacrifice as a celibate.  It was through the Virgin that the Savior was born and He was also celibate as he was fully human as well.  Mary becomes the bull’s-eye the dart thrower aims for.  With a central target, the thrower will still not make his goal all of the time.  But, he can hit the safe and valuable inner circle of holy matrimony.  A darts-man who hits this circle with regularity is as admired as the one who hits the bull’s-eye.  Novices at darts that constantly strive for the bull’s-eye will improve from hitting the wall, to hitting the outer areas of the board, to hitting either the highest targets of monasticism or matrimony. And this may be the root of why our modern society is engulfed in sexual immorality; rejecting the ever virginity of the fully human Mother of God has taken away the spiritual bull’s-eye that we should strive for in our sexuality.  We don’t see that supreme holiness can be born in us and in one another.  If we cannot see this possibility, then it is difficult to see ourselves and one another as much beyond potential sex partners.  We dehumanize each other in the worst ways.  Men are seen as lovable but brutal.  Women, especially in modern pornography, are treated in ways that if they really were dogs, the PETA would break every law in the world to protect them.  Even outside of porn, our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters are too frequently thought of,  referred to, and treated as less than the icon made by  God that they are as we men are.

This is not to say that those of us who hold Mary to be Ever Virgin are perfect in obtaining sexual purity.  We are probably as bad as, and in some cases worse than anyone else.  But, holding her as one who abstained from sex even after giving birth gives us an example to aim for.  And if one constantly aims for the bulls-eye, the result will be to the better.

Over-sexuality: How Orthodoxy Can Better Address the Real Problem

I think the Orthodox Church is making an awful mistake in its approach to abortion and same-sex marriages.  Of course, the ancient faith correctly stands against these sins based on the holy scriptures and the writings of the early fathers.  But, I have heard and seen several clerics and podcasters overlook the root cause of these evils and not promote the church’s best tools to fight against it. 

America is an over-sexual nation.  Boys start looking at porn as young as 8 years old.  In some cities, eleven year old girls have their first sexual encounters.  Even in our prime-time TV shows and other non-pornographic media, we are fed a diet of pursuing erotic gratification by any means necessary and legal.  We are taught that making love is the pinnacle of the human experience.  With such propaganda being such a part of our lives, unwanted pregnancies are going to happen.  Those attracted to the same-sex will seek social acceptability and flaunt their activity. 

The way to kill a weed is to kill the root.  Not the leaves nor flowers which can regenerate.  But, when the root is killed, the weed is killed.  When the root is weakened, the weed loses its vigor.  Thus to weaken and eliminate abortion and the gay marriage push,  Christianity must promote the fact that the pinnacle of human experience is union with God.  All other achievements and experiences are secondary and temporal.  In order for us to be eternal, we must seek the experience that is eternal.  When Americans understand and accept this truth, couples will reconsider how frequently they have intercourse.  Hetero as well as homosexuals will rethink their activity and better strive to put their will in God’s.

Anyone who fast according to Orthodox tradition gives up sexual activity as well as meat and dairy.  Thus, a married Orthodox couple permits themselves to make love only half a year.  Combine this with a woman’s regular cycle and time and energy spent in prayer disciplines and  other pursuits, married sex (as pleasurable as it is) does not mean quite as much as popular media promotes it.  Also, Orthodoxy offers the option of giving up one’s self to the monastic lifestyle.  People are free to devote themselves to celibacy and prayer.  This is a truly rebellious existance against the world of Sports Illustrated models and “pride” parades.  Orthodoxy has the tools of fasting and monasticism to attack the very root of abortion, gay marriage, and nearly every other toxic leaf and flower of our over sexed society.

But, too often, Orthodoxy clergy and laity settle for attacking leaves and flowers rather than the root.  There is nothing wrong with bishops marching for life.  But, why not have a march for celibacy as well?  There are atheist and secular voices who feel that too many people are thoughtlessly entering into sexual relationships and would like to see an option.  With over 2,000 years worth of holy men and women, I am certain that the clergy can find some common ground with these people as well as Catholics and Protestants.  Of course we should speak out against gay marriage.  But, the protection of our children from unnecessary sexual imagery and contact ought to be of greater concern.  I would dare say that most homosexual organizations are against the exploitation of children and would rather have gay teens pursuing academics, arts, and athletics rather than sexual activity.  Why not talk with the more sober-minded among this community?  As long as Orthodox leaders speak the same language as Catholics and Evangelical Protestants, the ancient faith will be seen as just another denomination of “hateful Christians.”   But if the Church has dialogue with the “pro-life” and “pro-equality” movements and offers God’s alternative, some of them may be led to Orthodoxy.  They will, at least, have more respect for your perspective. 

So to you bishops, priest,  scholars, and other Orthodox personalities (hello Ancient Faith Radio and OCN podcasters); use the tools of the great church you belong to.  It is because of your deep resources that some Protestants became attracted to Orthodoxy.