"He makes us love all that he loves, for his love's sake,
and makes us take pleasure in him and all his works."
Julian of Norwich
"The recovery of play is an invitation to friendship. Playfulness means the devalutation of control. Play involves the capacity to trust and surrender. So also with friendship... In the midst of giving myself over to the experience, there seems to be a spontaneous movement from my own enjoyment to enjoyment of my friend." James Nelson, The Intimate Connection
I remember reading this four plus years ago before I had written Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions. Is there is a healthy wildness to play between cross-gender friends that is delightfully free and a deep affirmation of God's splendor and goodness for men and women?
I think play is definitely a part of what is included for men and women to be fully alive. If I could translate St. Irenaeus quote for today: "The glory of God is men and women fully alive--and playing together." Is there is a healthy wildness to play between cross-gender friends that delightfully promotes the glory of God in the here and now?
As it turns out, if you read part one in this series on “Inappropriate Relationships and Evangelical Therapists” I have something in common with thousands of evangelical therapists which would shock some of them:
If you’re married, it is not inappropriate for you to be alone with a member of the opposite sex (married or not married) with whom you share an intentional dyadic relationship when no one else is present. It’s not inappropriate to nurture shared vulnerability, mutuality, authenticity, deep empathetic connection, and tender, meaningful touch when no one else is around.
First, let me begin by stating that I have great respect and admiration for evangelical therapists. This is not intended to be a critique against those therapists who welcome clients of the opposite sex. I definitely support that practice.
What I wish to explore are several themes currently embraced by a number of evangelicals and their fear of intimate cross-gender friendships. In particular, where do evangelical therapists stand on issues such as inappropriate relationships, emotional adultery, emotional intimacy, sexual attraction, emotional fidelity, and talking about intimate matters of the heart with no one else present?
There are evangelicals who are critical of professional therapy as a matter of general principle, and they would not be the focus of my exploration. That’s another post, another time.
So, one of the reasons why I like this book so much is that the authors take a serious look at celibacy and friendship. In order to do this, they were forced to do the same thing I had to do when I began researching spiritual friendship between the sexes: they had to go outside the Protestant tradition for any kind of serious treatment of friendship.
Although Colon and Field do not describe it in these terms, what they address in their Lust and Avoidance chapter is a certain kind of evangelical sexual fundamentalism that reduces all sexuality and sexual drive to eros and genital fulfillment. Not all evangelicals are sexual "fundamentalists" but many evangelical communities embrace it.
This is something to really ponder:
"If you look at the messages singles receive regarding relationships between men and women, is it any wonder that we have so much trouble connecting, even as friends? When Christian singles are repeatedly warned to avoid all temptation from the opposite sex, how are they supposed to get to know each other, let alone develop a relationship deep enough to lead to marriage?"
One of the best quotes from this chapter is towards the end of their chapter on "Lust & Avoidance: Dangerous Messages about Sexual Temptation." Colon and Field write, "This idea that sexuality is just sexual intercourse is a common misperception that often leaves singles wondering how they can be sexual without having sex."
This chapter is centered around three dangerous messages about sexual temptation running rampant among evangelicals:
Although we live in a sex-obsessed culture, in the secular world there happens to be positive portrayals of celibacy and chapter two focuses on these examples. The authors remind us that, in response to the sexual revolution psychologist Gabrielle Brown believed that sexuality "is a conscious, voluntary behavior which is learned, rather than an instinct over which one has no choice." This challenges the idea as sex as a biological imperative. Her ideas line up with what many Christian have believed for over two thousand years. Brown thought that "abstinence is a response on the outside to what's going on, and celibacy is a response from the inside."
My thinking about singles in the evangelical sub-culture began to change significantly when 1) I started doing serious research on spiritual friendship and in particular, friendship between the sexes a few years ago and 2) I formed an intimate friendship with a single woman. Number one (same-sex or cross-sex) has almost been totally ignored by evangelicals in their eccelesiology, discipleship, and spiritual formation. As Eugene Peterson has commented, "Friendship is a much underestimated aspect of spirituality" and this is especially true in Protestant and evangelical spirituality.
I think this underdeveloped, undervalued, underestimated spirituality of friendship in evangelical spirituality has contributed to the married versus single dichotomy in the contemporary Church life. After several years of researching spiritual friendship, I don't believe these are unrelated facts: while there have been endless books on marriage and family, the number of books on either singleness or friendship in the evangelical community are incredibly few in comparison. I don't think that's a publishing "coincidence." Yet, nearly almost half of the adult population in the evangelical world is unmarried and the number continues to grow.
"The great sex charade is the popular celebration in the media and in our society and culture at large of sexuality as the major indicator of intimacy between persons. Our culture is rife with the attention-getting power of sexuality, and we are saturated with the notion that sexual attractiveness is the key to interpersonal success and true happiness. But we do not ask what is at the core of interpersonal success. Culturally co-opted sexuality is a charade, a game designed to conceal the underlying reality it suggests. It is a deceitful rampant pretense to satisfy something in us that is far more profound, namely, the longing for an intimacy that ultimately ties us into the life of God."
He goes on to say that the "intimacy in the Spirit of Christ not only runs deeper than any human "intimacies" but hs the power to redefine them all in terms of one's own in-depth relation to God. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that spiritual intimacy is definitive of all other versions of "intimacy," including sexual claims to such closeness. The sex charade appears and thrives in church life as in the world because we do not know how nor do we have the theological nerve to investigate the depth of spiritual intimacy that we want in all our leaders and fellow members in the koinonia. Such spiritual intimacy is the most truly explosive and most neglected force in the life and death of our church communities."