Friday, March 26, 2010

Dorm Meeting, 2010

Of all the male friends I had at University, I did not know a single one who had never looked at pornography (well, maybe a few... but they were lying). Of all of these, only one of them ever told me, without equivocation, that he liked pornography - loved it, in fact.

This is a man for whom I have a great deal of respect. A man who used to come to dorm meetings (at the private, Christian school we both attended) wearing only a sequined speed-o and a cowboy hat, asking if he was in the right place for a party. This is also a man who repeatedly wrote on the dorm white-board that the topic of our next meeting was going to be "Masturbation."

Now, I know that you're probably just as nervous as our whole dorm was about that topic. Every single week we shot him down, and even when (in a tear-filled meeting at the very end of the year) we confessed all manner of sexual misconduct to each other and swore to never, ever do it again (ha, ha), we still only barely scratched the surface of the matter.

It is one thing to talk about it with a room full of blubbering young men. But to come right out and say it?!? On the internet? That's the sort of garbage you only find on low-brow, back-alley websites, right? Well, yeah. Usually.

You will please remember, however, that I said that I have a great deal of respect for this man. He was a guy to whom I regularly brought my woes as a confused, mis-placed little missionary kid in a country and culture I could not begin to understand. He offered me encouragement, friendship, love, and most of all, honesty.

That's right, honesty. The sequined cowboy might have had the decision-making abilities of gibbon on caffeine (it didn't take too long for the school to give him the, er, boot), but he always tried to tell the truth about himself and to get others to do the same. So in honor of him I am calling a dorm meeting right here and right now, and I am going to try to tell you the truth with as much reason, grace and propriety as I can muster. I am doing it because I believe, with every fiber of my being, that the only way to be free of my sins is to confess them.

The Catholic church now refers to confession as the "sacrament of reconciliation". I love that, because I desperately need to be reconciled: to my community, to humanity, to the Universe, and to the God who started the whole shebang. I need to take these very different and often opposed things, and bring them into harmony.

So here is my confession: I have failed in more ways and more often than I will ever admit to some internet audience of strangers. I have cheated, lied, stolen, coveted, and cetera. If it's been burned into a stone tablet by the glowing finger of God and smashed by Moses, I've done it. I have looked at things I shouldn't have and have done the worst thing that I can imagine - I have treated people as things. That's right, I have violated the most important law of them all - the law of love. What is even worse than that, though, is that I have done all of these things while simultaneously pretending in a thousand weaselly, underhanded ways, to be better than other people - people that if the truth were told (and it will be, I hope) just happen to be more honest and loving than I.

No more.

It's the end of that lying, hypocritical world as I've blown it, and you know what, I feel FINE. Better even than that, though, I feel free.

The truth is, while I love and respect the sequined cowboy, I disagree with him sometimes on how the world works. For instance, on that whole, pornography/masturbation thing. I don't think it is a foregone conclusion that as a sexual being I have to wallow in my selfish brokenness - whether it be as a lying hypocrite or an honest, open failure. I think that I can express my nature as a sexual being to other people in a way that is both honest and loving. And you know what else? I am about to say something that for me is revolutionary. Are you ready? Because it's the most important two sentences of the whole piece:

I think that love can set me free. That it in fact HAS set me free. 

This is very, very hard to accept or live out when it comes to sexual love. As I mentioned in my last post, we live in a culture that has taken something that ought to be the most beautiful, intimate human connection in the world and has ripped it to shreds and stewed it into a big, black, sticky, stink-pot of tawdriness

I am not talking about a good, hearty, perhaps even bawdy enjoyment of the robust musk of sexual identity in inter-human relationships. I am talking, rather, about sex as a putrescent commodity. I am talking about how the divorce of sex from community and procreation in our culture has turned it into an act of selfishness, rather than one of love and creation*. I am talking about how the creative, restorative drives of young men and women are frustrated and channeled repeatedly away from "good work", as Wendell Berry would call it, and into bad.

Because to my mind, that is what pornography and masturbation are - nothing more horrible or pathetic than our thwarted attempts to fulfill in a very selfish way what our souls  at their most unselfish yearn to accomplish: to become active, creative participants in a greater Story than the one told by our hum-drum, path-of-least-resistance lives. We want to be the heroes of this Story, but we do not want to recognize that heroes are made not through their own inherent magnificence but rather through their humble proclamation of the Magnificat, the song of Creation and of Grace.

So for all you out there who are broken failures like me I offer this hopeful prescription: If you spend your time focusing all your energies on what you purpose not to do and on avoiding whatever broken way in which you manifest your cries for Grace, then you are bound for a life less lived - a life of slavery to your own brokenness. If, however, you can turn your eyes to the Story and join into it with as little fear as you can manage, then you might just find the freedom and meaning for which you so honestly yearn.

Is there a twelve-step, unimodal program for this? Not hardly. I couldn't possibly begin to know who you are and what things you were born to create. But mark my words - you are an artist, an artist with a great many gifts. You have a song to sing, a dance to dance, and a word to speak or a pipe wrench to turn in love. Whoever you are, make something! Love everything! Don't. Stop. Ever.

I have a new creed and it goes like this:

You Are Free
Do It Now
Above All Else, Trust in the Slow Work of God **

You aren't going to figure it all out, make the right decisions, or love the way that you feel in your guts you were born to love. You are going to screw up. You are going to treat people as things and you are going to destroy beauty, sometimes with little more than your indifference. But it's okay. Something much more beautiful than you or I can imagine is being woven out of it all.

I believe it.

I doubt it.

I believe it.

God, oh, God... let me believe it a little more tomorrow than I did today.


*Don't get me wrong here. I'm not advocating that you poke holes in all your condoms and let the connubiating commence. If I ever marry again, I'm not all that sure how I feel about making more babies than the one I've already got. My artworks are my children, and far less demanding than the real, pooping and screaming deal.

I get it. I do. But our attitudes about what sex is for affect how we experience it, and I for one am done with deluding myself into thinking that it can be experienced in a healthy way if it is completely amputated from its very obvious, pro-creative context. I'm not sure what to do with this - but I'm pretty sure that (for example) chemically altering a woman's hormonal cycles to trick her body into thinking that it's permanently pregnant is a very, VERY bad idea. But maybe that's just me. For a further exploration of this idea, see the comments below.

**That last bit was borrowed from a poem by Teilhard de Chardin

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