Thursday, March 19, 2009

Notes From My Knapsack 3-26-09
Jeff Gill

Spring, and Warmer Thoughts Blossom Forth

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Who would argue with Tennyson?

Not to say that young women are not affected by lighter airs, bluer skies, and new blossoms and scents all around.

Which also means that we’ll no doubt hear another round of discussions about sex education, particularly in the school systems.

I despair rarely, but often on this one subject, as one who likes to seek out or even help build consensus. There are two fairly well entrenched camps, and the consensus may well be somewhere in no-person’s land out in the shell scarred middle ground, but it isn’t a nice place to pitch camp.

On one side are those who believe that sex and sexuality is like a Promethean gift of fire. Fire is a blessing, and brings warmth while sustaining life. It can also be a curse when it burns outside of the hearth, threatening the entire household with destruction. Those who actually intentionally play with fire out away from a properly constructed and equipped hearth are willfully courting disaster, and at the very least will get their fingers burned. Those in this camp do not dislike fire, and in fact say that every home can warmed beyond the hearth itself, by its well-intended effects, but are concerned at sparks flying any farther afield.

On the other side are those who affirm that sexuality and even sexual activity itself is more like, and should be seen more akin to laughter. Everyone benefits from laughter, everyone should laugh more, and anything that promotes laughter which is not mean or hurtful, a necessary qualification, should be supported by a happy and wise community. Laugh, and the world laughs with you; why would you want to be sad? Laughing in public can be intrusive or insensitive to others, but a little chuckling and humor shouldn’t bother anyone, and we should all be able to laugh together.

Honestly, I don’t know how to reconcile those two viewpoints. Which is how we end up with so much zero-sum discussion on the subject, or “winner” v. “loser” language.

The truth is that I personally fall into the fire and hearth camp. You can tell me “that’s because you’re a religious person,” but my answer will be “really? I didn’t know that – thanks.” Seriously, my shift to a fairly conservative viewpoint on this issue came out of starting in a very liberal tradition of church life.

My religious background was, sexually speaking, silent. It assumed some things about the culture which are no longer true (another day’s discussion, but see any Sat. Newark Advocate), and is still trying to find its footing in modern culture and the debate I suggest above.

What that tradition did say clearly was that as Christians, we are called to a place where I still tend to reside, in a commitment of service to those who are often on the ragged edge of society, where need and crisis are always near.

And it was seeing how sexuality, without boundaries or limits, can wreck families, destroy possibilities, and tear up futures that led me to where I stand now. My Biblical reading was actually subsequent to those realizations, and it’s still challenging to find a precise “Biblical morality” in scripture, point by point, summed up all in one spot. That’s where Tradition informs Scripture, and vice versa (also another discussion).

So my resolution of the sex ed debate that springs up each Spring is to say, uncomfortably, that they can teach whatever they want in school, because our family has to do the real heavy lifting when it comes to communicating values, and we’ll do that.

But as a matter of public policy, given that many homes are still silent, let alone churches, I hope abstinence is not presented as a fringe idea, but as a reasoned, rational option. I hope that condoms and birth control are honestly presented with the limits they carry, and not as license to launch off into activity beyond their own self-determined limits.

And as a community we need to keep on conversing about this awkward but important subject. Perhaps someday we can all sit by the fireside and talk about this, and laugh.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at

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