Scandals and Sex Drives

I read new allegations about an Evangelical pastor and feel despair for the world—someone has pressed rewind on the VCR and the tape has spooled backwards. Is it only a matter of time before it becomes unwound?

*                      *                      *

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

Waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

-Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things”

* * *

I drive from Jackson to Nashville; two hours of rolling hills, Tennessee-green trees, and meandering curves. Bob Dylan guides my car in and around semi-trucks—just giant metal toddlers barreling down hills without coordination, flailing and shuttering with noses pointed to the sunrise.

*                      *                      *

And when finally the bottom fell out

I became withdrawn

The only thing I knew how to do

Was to keep on keepin’ on

Like a bird that flew

Tangled up in blue

-Bob Dylan “Tangled up in Blue”

*                      *                      *

The rolling hills are just air bubbles in geographical dough, waiting to be rolled and flattened out by a giant rolling pin; I wonder what my place is in all of this. Where have my feet been standing? What truth am I resting in?

Democracy?

Masculinity?

Infallible pastors?

Whatever truth it was, I feel it leaving me. My feet feel the tremors of the rolling pin coming to flatten me, to flatten us.

I am despairing for the world.

*                      *                      *

“In making the thick darkness a swaddling band for the sea, God ‘set bars and doors’ and said, ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.’ But have we come even that far? Have we rowed out to the thick darkness, or are we playing pinochle in the bottom of the boat?”

-Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

*                      *                      *

Legend has it, my mom decided to give birth to me without the help of medication or painkillers. As I was coming out, my umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck, and the more Mom pushed and the more I emerged, the tighter the cord became. The air became thinner, I pushed some more, and it became thinner still.

I was crying. Mom was crying. The cord was getting tighter. My cries became silent.

The doctors cut the cord in time, but I couldn’t stop wailing for help. The tears kept coming as the doctors cleaned me and inspected me.

Finally, cries still rising from my cold, naked body, the doctors handed me to my dad.

I am told I stopped crying then. That I rested. That I looked at him and grew quiet.

It is spoken over me like legend, but it is in fact a fact.

*                      *                      *

“My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”

-Reepicheep (C.S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

*                      *                      *

I do not doubt God. I do not doubt Jesus. I do not doubt the Spirit.

But I have begun to doubt the people who claim to be their mouthpieces. The men who confidently speak for God and then sexually harass women in the name of authority or power or fear or desire, who preach abstinence and teach me to fear sex but can't abstain themselves.

Were they also raised to be afraid of a sex drive? Did they repress and repress and repress, refusing to acknowledge desire until it was too late? Until they woke up draped in the darkness?

I am still waiting, and I will wait still. I have not taken what is not mine, and I plan to wait until the commitment, until the vows, until the consent that comes with marriage. But does that mean I shouldn’t understand my sex drive now? That I shouldn’t respect it and acknowledge it? Or should I just keep biding time, playing cards in the dark, until something magical happens and I can explore it?

But repression didn’t seem to work for them. Why would it work for me?

So how do I leave the bottom of the boat without drowning in the sea of desire?

*                      *                      *

Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry!
Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!
From your presence let my vindication come!
Let your eyes behold the right!

-Psalm 17:1-2 (ESV)

*                      *                      *

My drive to Nashville continues, the hills rise and fall like the air spinning in my chest and the thoughts in my head. I drive up and over a mound, and the hill in front of me blocks the rising sun.

God, I am feeling cold, naked. I am feeling confused. I despair for the world. The air around me seems thin; the more I push into these thoughts, the thinner it becomes. My chest rises and falls, my cries look for a home to lodge in and rest.

*                      *                      *

“You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.”

-Saint Augustine (Confessions, p. 3)

*                      *                      *

I feel God asking if I trust him. If I believe he is still alive and working and moving in this world, in this church.

I do. I do trust him.

I think of my dad, serving my mom and our family faithfully for thirty years now. I think of my pastors--in Oklahoma, in Massachusetts, in California--each striving to live whole lives marked by love and sacrifice. These are not the men arrogant and scandalized; they are faithfully struggling towards Truth. I want to be a part of that lineage.

I also feel God asking if I trust him to work in me. To help me untangle my sex drive, to work through my trust issues and fears. To help me understand my masculinity.

I do. I do trust him.

I think, again, of my dad, and the countless times he told me growing up that shame had no place in our relationship. I think of my counselor telling me emotions and my desire for intimacy are not something to fear.

These men and these conversations have each pointed me back to a God who is stronger and wiser and fuller than I am. A God who is whole enough to envelop my incompleteness within his completion.

And I know, like the semi-trucks traveling beside me, I am a toddler, barreling haphazardly with my nose pointed toward the sunrise, falling into arms that quiet my cries.