Archive for October, 2013

Faith, Sex & Covenant Love

This story is about a journey—my journey, but perhaps everyone’s journey.  In many ways, this brief memoir is about my mid-life crisis. It is not, though, about purchasing an expensive, foreign sports car or about a dangerous attraction to a woman fifteen years my junior.   (these are the first two lines of the “Introduction” in The Race Before Us)

Usually the topic for each post I do on this blog “just comes to me.”  Just before I started this post, I was wondering what I was going to write.  My last post was on “running,” so I was looking to do something on “faith” (although I do not have a rule that I must alternate).  I have another WSGAC post (therefore, a “faith” post) ready to go, but I just did a WSGAC post – and, then, this idea “just came to me.”  My Christian friends would say that the Holy Spirit laid this idea on me or “spoke” to me.  My skeptic friends would say the items discussed below are just coincidences.

The other thing (in addition to using the word “sex” in its title) about this post is that it’s a bit more serious than others and for some it will sound like moralizing – that is not my intention.  Rather, I’m just trying to make some observations and see if there are any conclusions that should be drawn.  So, some of you may want to click away from this page now.  But, if you think it interesting or provocative, please share it with others.

Now, with all that introduction out-of-the-way, let me begin.

Yesterday I received an email that should not have slipped through our spam and other filters.  Before I opened it, I could see in the preview panel some of the email that said “Life is short.”  That drew my attention because I say it often and I am motivated to do many things (like study apologetics for six weeks in Oxford or walk the Appalachian trail) while I still have the requisite physical and/or mental capacities.  When I opened the email, it said “Life is short. Have an affair.”  It invited me to join a new internet, social club where I could have an affair with married women – because sleeping around with others that are married is much safer, because they also want to keep the affair secret.  It claims to have over 20 million members!  (I intentionally excluded a link to this site.  If you really don’t believe such a site exists, I’m sure Google can find it from its tag line.  I’d be very afraid though that within days you will get unsolicited emails from pornography sites.  No – that’s not what happened to me, but I’m still fearful.)  Trust me, rather than promoting internet dating (like “eHarmony”), this site glamorizes infidelity.

The “good news” is that the service is actually trying to help people’s marriages.  Specifically, it offers the following:

It is proven that many people who have an affair tend to be happier in their marriage. Statistics show that many men and women after having an affair are more likely to go back to their partner and be more committed to the relationship than before having an affair.

Some of my acquaintances would have kiddingly said – “what a great idea!” or “why didn’t I think of this!?”  And I am very capable of laughing at that kind of humor, but this struck me as so wrong, I wouldn’t even try to make jokes about it.  Rather, I was appalled, and then saddened.  I thought, is this really what we’ve come to?  So call me prudish or worse.  Many would say its a personal choice and who am I to suggest that they shouldn’t seek the enjoyment of an illicit affair.  So I guess its official – I am out of step with modern culture.  (Come to think of it, “counter-cultural” is a description we hear often to describe Jesus – so maybe this is a small step for me in the race that is set before us.  As it is often said – we may be in the world, but we need not be of the world.)

Now, if you’ve made it this far through this post, you should be wondering (in addition to “has Bruce lost his mind?”), what has this got to do with “faith” and how did Bruce ever decide to post on this topic?  Well, here’s the “rest of the story.”

Having checked my work emails from home (and having been invited to join this new “dating” club and still wondering about what to blog about in my next post), I left for the office.  I decided to listen to a Tim Keller podcast on the ride downtown.  Fumbling around with my iPhone as I headed out of the neighborhood, I just accepted whatever podcast came up when I opened the (new, iOS 7.0.2) Podcast app and touched the “Redeemer” button.  What I then heard was Keller’s podcast/sermon entitled “Love and Lust.”

Tim Keller

Tim Keller

In this brilliant message, Keller explains the difference between what he calls “covenant” love and “consumer” love and how the Bible expects sex to be a covenant good.  If a consumer good, sex is used only to satisfy selfish needs and desires. [Jesus said: ” . . .  whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”]  But, as Keller explains, “in a covenant, where you have made a promise, sex becomes like a sacrament (an external, visible sign of an invisible reality) – it is a vehicle of engaging the whole person in an act of self giving and self-commitment.”  Sex then is sign or an example of what marriage partners have done with their whole lives – they have made themselves open and vulnerable (“naked”) to each other as part of a trusting and self-sacrificing relationship.  Thus, Keller shows us that “sex outside of marriage lacks integrity because you’re asking someone to do with their body what they are doing with their whole life.”

Keller also quotes C.S. Lewis on this topic, who expresses these same thoughts about integrity and fidelity in marriage:

The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union the sexual from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union. 

–  C.S. Lewis

I certainly can’t do justice to Keller’s entire message in this small (but already longer than usual) space.  His emphasis of the covenant nature (sacred promises) of marriage and its similarity to God’s promises to us is particularly insightful.  You can though click on “Love and Lust” (podcast # 12) and listen to the entire message.  One final point, somewhat in contrast to the “Love is short. Have an affair” email (and certainly contrary to modern, public culture), Keller mentions recent studies and publications (including  Premarital Sex in America), which show that living together before marriage is more likely to lead to failed marriages.  (In Keller’s words, living together before marriage presents sex as a consumer good, and not part of a relationship based upon “covenant love.”)

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By the time I got to work, I knew what my post (this post) was supposed to be about.  And, if I had any question, my lunch appointment left no doubt.  The midday meal was with someone I had never met, but a mutual friend encouraged us to get together.  In telling me about a ministry he founded, my lunch companion (we will call him “Rocky”) explained that his own extra-marital affair ruined his marriage and much of his home life, but also how a renewed faith led him to counsel others damaged by infidelity and to start a ministry (3 Wide Ministries) for men about family, values, and faith. Quite an encouraging story – and what a coincidence considering my plans for writing this post.

A closing thought (and you may need to focus on this sentence for an extra moment):  I am increasingly skeptical of coincidences.

 

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Running Tips – 1.0

I would sign up for races so I always had another race coming up. With less than excellent self-control and discipline, signing up for races helped keep me honest. If I always have another distance race upcoming and I tell people, I have to keep training so I will be prepared and won’t have to tell my friends I had quit.  (excerpt from The Race Before Us)

DISCLAIMER: I may have completed a few 10Ks, half-marathons, and 26.2 mile races, but I still consider myself a novice runner.  Any advice or “tips” that I may have are for beginners – novice runners like me.  (Some might say that because of my pace – I’m pretty slow – I’m just a jogger or “recreational” runner, and not a runner at all.  To them I like to say what most “real” runners say to me:  “It’s just important that you are out there.”  More about “real” runners at some future post.)

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One of the aims of this blog is to encourage others to run (or walk) their first 5K or 10K (sometimes called “from couch to first 10K”) and enjoy the benefits of running.  Hopefully, the example of an overweight, 50+ year-old man running a marathon might suggest to others that they too can “do it” – because you can.  Sometimes I found that traditional running tips jump over some of the issues and questions experienced by truly new runners.  In my journey (The Race Before Us) of learning to become a runner, I experienced a number of things came up that might be helpful to someone thinking about actually trying to run that first 5K or 10K.  All I can say is that its unlikely you’ll be sorry if you try.  And, if you do, I hope a few of my – novice – running tips might be helpful.  (I will also have a real running coach do some guest posts on running tips that will be interesting and encouraging.)

The “tips” or the experiences I offer will not necessarily be in chronological order of how and when I experienced them.  For instance, I got the idea for this post because I stumbled across a blogger “widget” (too hard to explain here) that allows one to post upcoming events on their blog homepage.  Many runners who blog will show the name and date of  their “next race” – their upcoming runner goal.  This reminded me of something I did when I first started running, so I thought I’d post my own “Next Race” widget and use that posting to offer this “tip.”

As the quotation above states, I found that if you keep signing up for the next 5K or 10K (or even longer) race in your town, not only do you probably support a great charity, but you keep to your training schedule better.  If you are like me – prone to be lazy and undisciplined – its motivational to know another race is coming up and you need to keep with your training.  When the race rolls around, you do not want to have to tell your colleagues and friends – when they ask – that you didn’t run because you didn’t keep up your training.  I didn’t want to be thought of as a quitter; you won’t want to be thought of as a quitter – so run, Forrest run!

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What’s So Great About Christianity? (“WSGAC”)

If the reconciliation of my physical and spiritual health was not in itself a miracle, Ravi Zacharias’ invitation for me to train to become a member of one of their teams speaking on apologetics can be explained only in terms of God’s providence. (excerpt from the “Epilogue” in The Race Before Us)

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I’ve mentioned here that I recently returned from India.  There I was privileged to speak at RZIM’s “National Conference on Faith in the Public Square.”  If I told who I was on the program with (Ravi Zacharias, Os Guinness, Ken Blanchard, Michael Ducker, and others), you simply would not believe it – my whole journey (captured in The Race Before Us: A Journey of Running & Faith) is pretty hard to believe.  Over 1,200 people came from throughout India – a country where .9 % of the country is Christian – to grow in their commitment to share their faith “in the public square.”  I had an opportunity to meet many of the attendees.  One thing that stood out among them was their dedication to living out their faith in various ministries, whether it was service to the impoverished, the incarcerated, the marginalized, and others in need.

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This is the first of what will be periodic posts highlighting the efforts and unselfish work of Christians and Christian organizations. I continue to be inspired and challenged – inspired by amazing, unselfish dedication and challenged because I fall so short of their example. If we’re going to hold up the extraordinary contributions by individuals and organizations in the name of the Christian faith, however, we are well served to admit that inexcusable (some outrageous) conduct – done in the name of “the church” or Christ – exists and has existed historically.  In fact, hypocrisy by those allegedly proclaiming the gospel, but not acting in accordance it remains one of the major barriers for many seekers and non-believers. For many, they cannot “get over” what “the church” has done in history – supposedly in the name of God or Christ. By acknowledging this bad conduct, understanding that such behavior is inconsistent with Christianity, and celebrating (and gaining inspiration from) the commitment of Christians to serve others is a crucial apologetic**.

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I will begin these posts, therefore, by recalling some of these specific instances where the church has failed to act in accordance with the teachings of the person whom they say they are following.  When I refer to “the church” I will refer to any organization that believes it follows Jesus Christ.  I will not be “picking on” any particular denomination, but acknowledging the errors of the past is important.  And, just as I will address bad behavior by “the church” today as well as yesterday, I will also highlight historic and present-day achievements by Christians and Christian organizations.

This post introduces the series.  In the interest of keeping posts relatively brief, I will not address in detail any example of either bad behavior or what makes Christianity great, but to complete the introduction and offer examples of what I hope to do, I have included very short samples of (1) the bad behavior (“What’s NOT so great”) and (2) the laudable conduct (What IS great about Christianity).

What’s NOT so great

To get started, perhaps we should acknowledge perhaps the most obvious problem still affecting the Roman Catholic Church – the long history of ignoring known sexual abuse of boys and young men by some of its priests.

The question is not whether there is any justification for the conduct or the church’s reaction (or lack of reaction) to the bad behavior – the questions should be (i) is such conduct consistent with – the logical outgrowth – of what Jesus did or Jesus taught and (ii) does such conduct undermine the truth and relevance of Christianity?  (We will explore these questions in future posts.)

What IS GREAT about Christianity

Also, to get started, perhaps we acknowledge one of history’s best known examples of Christian faith worked out in selfless love – Mother Theresa’s work in the slums of Calcutta.  One of the things I plan to do here is highlight many of the “unsung” heroes of the faith.  Please share with me examples of Christians and Christian organizations that can be held up here as inspiration and challenge.

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** “Apologetic” – used here not to refer to a feeling or showing regret, but defined as “a reasoned argument in justification of a theory or religious doctrine.”  [“Christian apologetics is a field of Christian theology that aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defend the faith against objections, and expose the perceived flaws of other worldviews.”]

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A Runner’s Wish: Heal through Faith, Trust and Openness

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This post is much more like a “Tweet.”  I ran across this story in the Charlotte Observer and, for someone who is trying to explore the relationship between running and faith, it was not only obligatory, but encouraging, inspirational, and emotional.  It serves as yet another example of this mysterious relationship between running and faith.  If you have other examples to share, please let me know.

For now, I hope you find this story (“Running for her Life“) about Stephanie “Pezz” Pezzullo a blessing.  It is a story of pain and courage — and it is a story of running and faith.  (I have repeated the link below.)

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Here is glimpse, Pezz’ concluding remark:

“Romans 8:28 is my favorite verse. It says, ‘In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ It basically just means if I really feel I was called according to God’s purpose, that no matter what happens in this life, it can be turned around for good. And it has in so many ways.”  If you take the time to read this story, you will how Pezz is using her story for good and why it is her wish that her story be used to help those who suffer to “heal through faith, trust and openness.”

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Stephanie has her own blog at PezzRuns and can be found on Facebook.
Yesterday she ran the Chicago Marathon in 2 hours and 38 minutes, finishing 12th overall for the women finishers.  I look forward to watching Pezz as she competes in a sport at the highest level where, on almost any given day, us recreational runners can run at the same time in the same event.  Over 40,000 people ran in yesterday’s Chicago Marathon.
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http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/09/14/4313757/running-for-her-life.html#.UlmRsxZ0XA6

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Glad for Gladwell – Glad for Us

In Blink, author Malcolm Gladwell suggests that we know certain things independent of a traditional application of rational analysis to a set of sensory perceptions.  Gladwell makes a convincing case that not only do human beings appear to have some incredible facility to analyze a situation unconsciously – something he refers to as “thin slicing” and “rapid cognition” – but that the resulting conclusions are very trustworthy.  (excerpt from The Race Before Us).

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I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell. I’ve read or listened to all of his books.  Because he is a social scientist, I often comment that I’m not sure I agree with every conclusion he draws, but you cannot ignore his observations.  His writing is also fun as he points out (and tries to explain) some fascinating (even if at times very unimportant) things:  like, why do we have numerous varieties of mustard, but essentially only one version of catsup?

In my journey, Gladwell’s observations helped me to “see” that we make conclusions about life and reality without always using a strict scientific or materialistic approach – that even a rigid application of reason had its limitations.  As I write in The Race Before Us – “one thing that I knew – really knew – was that I had a deep love for my wife and children and that this conclusion was not the byproduct of formal argumentation or the scientific method.”  (Happy Birthday Cheryl).  And so it is with belief in God – the conclusion is highly rational, but not completely so.  There is not a “leap” despite the evidence, but there is a commitment of trust that defies logical syllogisms.  So, not surprisingly, I was encouraged to read yesterday that Malcolm Gladwell had rediscovered his faith while writing his newest book, David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.  Here is one question and answer from that article/interview:

Q: David and Goliath is quite famous, yes. What about Jesus? Where might he fit in your narrative?

A: He does fit. Here is one of the most revolutionary figures in history. He comes from the humblest of beginnings. He never held elected office. He never had an army at his disposal. He never got rich; he had nothing that we would associate with power and advantage. Nonetheless, what does he accomplish? An unfathomable amount. He is almost the perfect illustration of this idea that you have to look in the heart to know what someone’s capable of.

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Obviously, I’m eager to read the story of David and Goliath from Gladwell’s perspective.  A final note – recalling my consideration of Gladwell’s observations during my journey (and recalling the limits of pure reason or of the scientific method in reaching certain conclusions we know to be true), I am reminded of a famous quote that seems to fit here.

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”  (Blaise Pascal)

 

And, who knew he was a runner?  [But I guess we should have “known” that from reading his books and understanding his character.]

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Agreeing with Dawkins

I had to conclude that Dawkins didn’t write The God Delusion for someone on an honest quest. Rather, he apparently wrote the book to make money and to pander to individuals already inclined to agree with him.  (excerpt from The Race Before Us)

You might watch out for locust and fire if you hear that I recently agreed with Richard Dawkins on an issue of faith.  In my book I was highly critical of this well-known, outspoken (if not aggressive) atheist.  Recently, however, Dawkins was highly critical (calling them – “sanctimonious little prigs”**) of student union officials at the London School of Economics, who banned the wearing of t-shirts that made fun of Jesus and Mohamed because some other students were “offended.”

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Dawkins apparently tweeted that he was offended by people wearing baseball caps backwards, chewing gum, and the use of the word ‘awesome’ – and asked the student union to ban those things as well.  I have to agree with Dawkins here.  (And sometimes I’m offended by people wearing orange and blue together.)  I may not like people mocking Jesus.  I may be even offended, but my faith has to be strong enough to bear the attack.  Paul suffered far more abuse.  Jesus turned the other cheek and gave us the Golden Rule.  We will only win people to the truth through gentleness and respect – not censorship or verbal abuse.

 

“There is something very disturbing about the curtailing of free speech on university campuses simply on the grounds of claimed offense. Being offended from time to time is the price you pay for living in an open and free society. If any religion is off-limits for open debate we are in a very dangerous situation.”  Again, not only do I agree, but its said so well, I wish I had said it (even though it’s a quote from Stephen Evans of the National Secular Society).

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One more thing for the London School of Economics – I’m offended by Keynesian economic policy.
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**Prig – a self-righteously moralistic person who behaves as if superior to others.  [Sorry, my six weeks in Oxford has not worn off fully yet.]

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Yoga and Faith

In considering yoga as a form of core training – to support my running, I looked into the background and varieties of yoga – what is it that people mean when they talk about “yoga”?  I was specifically interested in whether I could take advantage of the physical aspects of yoga, while ignoring the spiritual disciples.

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While various people will inevitably explain the term or the practice differently, it appears that “yoga” is generally understood to refer to the physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines that originated in India. The practice of yoga dates back well before the time of Christ. For some, it approaches or constitutes a “religion” or philosophy in that the practitioner seeks some form of unity with the divine and/or a state of “permanent peace.”  This appears to be especially true in its earliest and most traditional forms.  In fact, “yoga” is one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy.

Most in the west, though, think more of the physical exercise aspects of yoga (divorced from the religious aspects) when confronted with that term.  This approach, popularized in the 1980’s in the west, is often referred to as “hatha yoga.”

In its pure, ancient form, however, yoga is a religion or philosophy inconsistent with Christianity. While this post doesn’t pretend to try to address that subject (which I’m sure has occupied numerous books), a mention of a few observations about important, prominent differences would appear appropriate.

First, one should consider the concept of man and his relationship with God.  Most who practice yoga for its spiritual dimensions believe that god is everywhere and in everything (“pantheism”).  Thus, man is god as well.  Second, as a Hindu practice or philosophy has a “low” view of the natural world. It views nature as something to be escaped.  A union with the divine or permanent peace cannot be achieved without freely oneself from the natural or material world.  In Christianity, however, the natural world is something to be enjoyed – recall that God said that it was “good,” in fact, it was “very good.”).

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Third, the ancient practice of yoga to reach a “oneness” or peace is then a path to god or the divine.  For Christians, the path to God is through (and only through – something that troubles modern, skeptical people) a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Moreover, salvation (which might be equated with the Hindu goal of union with god) cannot be earned (as it appears possible in Hinduism), but is available only by God’s grace.

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For me then, yoga will be a form of physical exercise.  (That’s not to say that some Christian thinkers believe almost any form of yoga is inconsistent with Christian faith.)  There is a fair bit of material about the benefit of yoga for runners.  (Consider: Live Run Love Yoga blog; Runner’s World article; Yoga Journal article; and Runner’s World article ). I’m eager to see how it may impact me – presumably in a positive way.

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