Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Review: "Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions"

Dan Brennan's splendidly readable, and charitably subversive,

"Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions:

Engaging the Mystery of Friendship Between Men and Women"

definitely came along at the right time for me. Brennan's unique, straightforward, and engaging way of tackling the topic; and his unique, straightforward, and engaging way of tackling the topic connected dots for me among three growing convictions:
  • A reductionist view of sexuality almost inevitably becomes seductionist. We are (g)not gnostic. By obsessing with rules, we end up being ruled by obsexxing. Ironically, that's when we may be most vulnerable. We in the Protestant tradition can all these (5oo!!)years later still define ourselves primarily by what we are against, and not by what/Who we are for. We desperately need to incorporate insights from Catholic and Eastern streams to keep center, and steer away from gnostic ditches.
  • The Trinitarian nature of life, relationships, church/ecclesiology....of, well, everything...has profound ( and profoundly untapped) implications for....well, everything.
  • The promise of the rabbinic tradition of "elevation" (which Bono of course has prophetically endorsed/sung about/prayed about) is uniquely applicable our current juncture in postmodernity and church history.

Bottom line: The books is on cross-sex friendships, and a defense of how they can work.

That no other evangelical Christian-oriented book has even been dedicated to this topic at all..

...let alone challenged the deeply-embedded conservagelical party line (which ironically sounds like the folks Paul is poking fun at in the "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" of Colossians 2:21)....

in our lifetime (part of the point, earlier writers, many of them...gasp!...Catholic, have done well here) is enough to recommend it.

But the way he traces church history (I recently learned a lot about church teaching it! That the "holy kiss" commanded in the New Testament was counterinuitively on the lips, even when cross-gender, nailed me...but not as much as the profound reason for that, see this link) and interweaves solid biblical exegesis, and knows just the right quote from hugely helpful thinkers as Leanne Payne, Rob Bell, Scot McKnight, Marva Dawn, Rodney Clapp, catapults this to a five-star review.

I am about to confess:

I have been known to occasionally meet publicly with women at Starbuck's.


I am not sure I would be comfortable with doing so at a full-blown restuarant, indoors, as a meal. (Except, say, with a pastor friend and colleague in our network.....who just happens to be named Nancy......... and female).
Right or wrong, I still generally keep the Saddleback/Billy Graham guidelines (which the book weighs).
Though I am certain the Holy Spirit will lead me to break them a bit more (biblically, even though I am not a binitarian this).

And yes, I am aware that even the Starbuck's level meetings can be risky
(see "Uncle Ernie at Uncle Harry's" and
"God, beach and breasts"),

and that we men (in particular) risk over-sexualizing.

But since that infamous Scripture that nine out of ten evangelicals would swear (well, promise) on stack of Bibles was in the Bible ("Avoid the appearance of evil") is nowhere in the Bible (and the one Scripture we confuse for that one actually makes basically the opposite point, please read this link from Tia Lynn)..

..the risk I am worried about should not be "what will people think."

The risk I may be indeed taking is that I won't grow as a disciple of Jesus, unless I do occasionally partake in such "sacred order" encounters.

Well. for the two readers that are left, I continue (:

I don't intend to write a review that is a summary of the content, or even one that fully divulges where he lands, but one that references and quotes the book briefly, through the grid of the three topics I laid out above (and copied below).

I sincerely hope you are already sold on the book, and my comments will intrigue you into cutting the deal.

I highly recommend reading chapter one (or watching this video interview with the author) if you have any doubt; then I would double dare you not to finish the book in one setting.


1)A reductionist view of sexuality almost inevitably becomes seductionist. We are (g)not gnostic. By obsessing with rules, we end up being ruled by obsexxing. Ironically, that's when we may be most vulnerable....

Rob Bell, who is quoted wisely throughout the book, asserts that
"our sexuality is all the ways we strive to reconnect with our world, with each other, and with God."

If that is so (and the Bible backs it, see Brennan's studies of Genesis, for example), how can we avoid (or why should we) what the author calls "embodied relationships" that are inevitably sexual, but not romantic or erotic?

Such is what the amazing "cloud of witnesses" throughout church history that Brennan invokes and quotes attest to (Why have we never seen these quotes elsewhere?)

As I wrote about it in The Reduction of Seduction posts (here and here) I do get how we in leadership cannot help but complicate relationships with "parishoners" or others who view us in a pastoral/God-figure role. The "woman in the 22nd pew" has permanently messed up my life, thank God.

And there is need to always remember the names we'd like to forget (from Swaggart to Haggard).

But it is precisely we as leaders, with our drive to control, that hinders the Spirit's work in our communities. In the name of carefulness, we abdicate prayerfulness. We inadvertently (??) bless legalism, sell gnosticism, and endorse immorality.


What if I simply quoted two of the most acceptable standards among evangelical writers here
These are the killer quotes (if read thrice and pondered) that Brennan brilliantly introduces us to:

"It is therefore easy to see why Authority frowns on friendship.
Every real friendship is a sort of secession, even a rebellion." (C.S. Lewis, p. 145)

"[Seeking intimacy, at any level} is not a venture that gets the support of many people.
It is inefficient." (Eugene Peterson, p. 150).

No wonder we (I) hijack our sermons and framejack our pastoral counsel;
we feed (our) power, and fear (the peoples) freedom.

Much better to be found faithful and inefficient
(Read Ellul, well as the Marva Dawn "I cast you out, foul spirit of effectiveness" article here).

Thus, our sermons on "thou must" create musterbation.
We "should" on people.

Also, that this author (like hardly anyone else you read today, save the Godsend N.T. Wright) radically gets what Scripture means by "New Creation" is worth the price of the book. Any serious study of 2 Corinthians will reveal that the only way it cannot be translated is the way we pastors have always preached it (and likely the only way you have ever heard it: "If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation," When a straightforward reading of the Greek is "If anyone is in Christ, there the new creation is [in part].

New Creation is Kingdom Community. How ridiculous to downsize such a term so it implies one re-created person is "all that."

Every pastor worth his or her salt knows that's what it says, but who preaches it?
"New Creation" throughout the Bible is a corporate manifestation of the Kingdom of God; the Kingdom of the future partly and partially consummated in the present life,and on earth.

Yes, I see that hand. I know all the dangers of an overly "realized eschatology." Yes, I know the Corinthian church bough it hook line and sinker, and it led to sexual (and other) immorality.
But I also know the danger of not realizing the fourth petition of the Lord's Prayer
(Read Ladd, Wright, et al...or how about the Bible in context for a change and get back to me!)

And check Brennan's quotes below.

The fact that he incorporates the biblical worldview of New Creation in passing; without even defending or commenting on it like I just did, is refreshing and revolutionary, timely and telling:

"in the new creation, men and women are not limited to stark contrasts where we must choose between romantic passion or inappropriate sex/infidelity." (p.. 17)

"rethinking male-female oneness in the new this new age, the New Testament makes clear there are new social intimacies." (71-72)

"in the beginning of the new creation...with his resurrection, Jesus met Mary Madgalene, an unmarried woman, alone in a garden.." (99)

How tragic that those who preach the most on "not being of the world," don't often preach on "being in the Kingdom."

As Len Sweet says, "We are in the world, and not of it...but not out of it yet, either."
In this world we will have troubles...but also delightful marital sex, and delightful non-romantic cross-sex relationships! If that word "Delight" trips you up, do NOT read one of the strongest section in "Sacred Passions' on that D-word!

2)The Trinitarian nature of life, relationships, church/ecclesiology....of, well, everything...has profound ( and profoundly untapped) implications for....well, everything:

I was thrilled to find extensive coverage of the practical ramifications of a Trinitarian worldview, ecclesiology, and sexology. I have often quoted Len Hjalmarson and Jurgen Moltmann on this lens (see labels marked "trinity" below), so found these additional quotes confirmational:

"our trust in the Trinity's embrace frees us to love more fully with triune types of love--fostering deep relationships that involve solid friendships without sexual innuendo"
(Marva Dawn, p. 77)

"It is precisely the one triune God in whose image all human beings are created who holds the promise of peace between men and women with irreducible but changing identities."
(Miraslov Volf, p. 146)

"Like the Trinity, we are called to understand who we are not as isolated individuals who have to make contracts to protect ourselves, but as persons with faces turned towards God and each other." (Edith Humphrey, p. 169)

If you are thinking this all sounds like theological gobbledygook, or a "sloppy agape" "free-love" orgy, you are far from the point. We cannot theologize, or make practical decisions without the Bedrock doctrine (and lifesource) of the Triune God who is intrinsically relationship ( liminally and missionally).

3)The promise of the rabbinic tradition of "elevation" (which Bono of course has prophetically endorsed/sung about/prayed about) is uniquely applicable our current juncture in postmodernity and church history.

On this final point/thesis of mine....maybe one related quote from Brennan which radically re-paints a category such as "chastity" as positive will suffice:

"Chastity, then, becomes the relational skill of choosing freedom to dance with personal beauty, goodness and truth in embodied relationships (138).

On this point, I can do no better than point you to rabbis...and Bono:.

We start with Rabbi Cohen (not quoted in the book):

For the chasid, prayer is not something one recites, it is rather an exercise that one performs, or an
experience that one enters into.... There is no room for inhibition...singing and dancing are essential means by which ...he expresses his emotional cleaving to God….but
that desire for God has to be so overwhelming that any extraneous thoughts are excluded…If distractions are erotic in nature…and (one) faces up to the predominance of the sexual urge at both conscious and subconscious levels, and
its capacity to intrude even during prayer...then he has learned to take measures…Chasidism dealt with this by introducing the doctrine of the "elevation of strange
thoughts." This...technique not of sublimation, but of thought conversion, whereby the beauty or desirability of the woman is latched upon and used not as a sexual but rather as a mental and spiritual stimulus.... taught to "elevate" these thoughts by substituting the beauty of God for the
physical beauty that is currently bewitching us. (The pray-er) has learned to immediately contrast the pale reflection of beauty that humans are endowed with, on the one hand, and the supreme Divine source of authentic and enduring beauty,
on the other…

Any U2 fan will immediately and clearly connect all this to the U2 song, "Elevation."
(Read more, and exegete and watch the song here...ideally it's a soundtrack to this great book)

So please, buy the book.

Read Starbucks...with a friend.

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