This World Is Not My Home by Jeremy Paden (part 4)


Our family collected songs about heaven like some people collect teaspoons. They marked and measured moments in our lives, like the dirge we learned around the time Mom went blind in one eye.

The world you know as a child is the one given you. You move because your parents move. You are from here or from there because your parents tell you so. You grow up in a religious group and are told it began on Pentecost Sunday and you believe this to the point of arguing in fifth grade with Catholics about primacy of origin, utterly ignorant that Campbell and Stone were 19th century Americans and that your particular religious group was born in the hills of Kentucky. Children live and move about in a world presided over by adults. The lucky ones never have to call into question that world, get to bounce about enveloped in love, oblivious to most anything but their wants. We were lucky and parental love covered over many sins.

I remember aspects about Mom’s blindness. How the morning she woke up and couldn’t see we were in a mountain village, several hours north of Managua. Dad had been holding a health clinic. We’d been sleeping in our Volkswagen camper. I remember our leaving Nicaragua, the time spent in Houston, the parents going to see specialists, the miracle of Mom’s sight regained. I think I remember their having talked about it that morning. I’m rather sure we headed back to the capital early. They probably talked about it all the way home and then long into the night and for many nights. But I don’t remember. Maybe they kept this from us. Maybe a mother touched by blindness was, for us children, inconceivable. As a child it’s hard to see beyond your own needs and desires.

Who can remember what street we were on? Dad was driving the Volkswagen they bought anticipating van-fulls of Nicaraguan brethren and sistren. And there always were. We often fulfilled Christ’s injunction to let the soldier ride along. But on this morning or afternoon, it was only us. Dad was recounting a nurse flirting with him. Only more. Even at seven I knew that overt and blatant propositions were improper. But I wasn’t worried. Mom and Dad were in their golden years and talk flowed between them like light. They trusted each other, were faithful to each other, and could talk about anything. This I do remember; but I don’t the worry about Mom’s blindness.

And yet, that song. One more step, one more step in faith, forward brother, forward, our prize waits for us in heaven. Like I said, a funeral march, each measure dragging like a tired foot up a hill. And mother, eyes closed, singing, One more stepForward brotherThere’s a prize.

God, Sex, and Your Lover

……now that I have your attention, let’s talk about sex.

Well, yes and no on that.  Let’s talk about God, sex, and your lover.

A college classmate of mine sent me a link to a recent essay in the Huffington Post, Roger Friedland: God, Sex and Love on American Campuses.  I love that she knew I would be fascinated by this, and I am.  I find the intersection of sexuality and spirituality to be one of the most compelling destinations in human experience.

Friedland is a Professor of Religion and Cultural Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  He conducted surveys of students on his campus to find answers to questions about who is doing what with whom and why from a sexual perspective.  He was curious about the perceived change of habits since his own youth, when as he reflects, love was taken almost for granted but sex was something to investigate.

My generation took love for granted; sex was the great uncertainty, the adventure. This new generation has reversed the equation. For them, sex has become ordinary; what is uncertain, frightening, and for an increasing number of them unbelievable, is love.

When you read the HuffPo piece, be aware it is relatively explicit but moves on quickly to questions about the relevance and role of religion to young people’s choices about sex.  Friedland is quick to establish that there is simply no objective and reliable research that supports the idea that belief in God has much of an effect on what people actually do in their sex lives.  For example, students taking “virginity pledges” were almost identical in their sexual experiences with those who did not take the pledge, with the exception of more, ahem, oral experience.

So what difference does belief in God make in all this?  According to Friedman, it makes a monumental difference in a very key area, that being the connection between sex and love.

When compared to those who don’t believe in anything beyond the physical world, young people who definitely believe in God are twice as likely to make love, as opposed to just having sex…….If you want a lover, one of the best places to look is among those who believe in God.

It would be too easy to turn this research into an advertisement for why if one is looking for love they should join a faith-based dating service.  The real show-stopper in Friedman’s musings comes when he proposes that we all think very critically and seriously about what it means for our world that we are chasing sexual social demons at the peril of losing our grip on real love —  not so much love in the Valentine shape of the thing, but love in the God-shape.

We are going down the rabbit hole after something that is not much influenced by our pursuits, and neglecting to secure our commitment to and involvement with love in our spiritual and social selves.

A relation with the divine is one in which you acknowledge your lack of sovereignty and self-control; admit that you are not your own basis, your own source; and depend on an other for your being whom you will never really understand or control. Religiosity and real romance are parallel orders of experience.

Religion is a source of constant disagreement and debate; increasingly for this generation of young people, so is love.  It seems to me that when we lose specific religious convictions, if we still have love as a guiding star our world is generally secure.  The opposite does not hold true.  If we begin to debate the existence and importance of love, all that holds us together is in peril.

Love is an unlikely, even impossible, life course, but nonetheless an essential driver of much that is great in our world. Love is the prerequisite of our kind of history. When we no longer believe in it, we cripple our capacity to make it.

Sex will always be interesting, there’s no denying that.  But I have to agree with Friedman, for sex to be the driving focus of organized religion as it has become in so many cases seems anemic and sad.  There is no end to the list of things that people think “should” be true but that just are not.  Religious organizations need to get serious about what is really at-risk here.

Let’s take our eyes off of people’s underpants and put them back on their hearts, where they belong.

Image credit: Auguste Rodin (1840–1917)